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Can Singapore rely less on foreign workers? It's not just about dollars and cents, say observers

Jun 09, 2020 | 🚀 Fathership
Another panellist, National University of Singapore sociologist Chua Beng Huat, said that the country's dependence on foreign workers has depressed the wages of low-income workers.

Several Government ministers, from Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, have reiterated during recent media interviews that while Singapore should depend less on foreign workers by automating processes, the country can never eliminate its need for them.

This also comes with negative effects on local labourers who compete with foreign workers for the same types of jobs: "So the question is whether the net effect is positive - it probably is - and after that, how do you mitigate any harms on local workers who are substitutes for foreign workers?".

The pandemic has shown that a highly specialised foreign versus local workforce can be a weakness as well as a strength, he said in his response to CNA.

"In good times, it helps us punch well above our weight, but ... if foreign workers are withdrawn or numbers reduced for any reason, we will quickly find that we don't have the local skills or capabilities to take their place - numbers notwithstanding."

"It's all about trade-offs - between cost and growth and maybe also our societal aspirations. The COVID-19 experience has probably revealed that it cannot be simply a calculation of dollars and cents. And what happens to the foreign workers on Singapore shores can impact the Singapore economy both positively and negatively."