Nov 13, 2012

Singapore - Concerns over govt's projected foreign manpower needs

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SINGAPORE: Non-government organisations (NGO), stakeholders and observers have raised concerns over the government's projection for more foreign manpower by 2030.

They wonder if the demand for labour in certain sectors can be met. Others said it is not just about the numbers but also whether Singapore can bring in the best quality of foreign manpower.

On November 12, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) estimated that by 2030, Singapore may need about 150,000 more foreign workers in health care, construction and as maids.

As Singapore's population ages, demand for health care services, and home-based care will increase.

Demand for health-care workers could go up to 91,000 in 2030. Of this, 28,000 are projected to be foreign health-care workers.

Last year, there were 13,000 foreign workers out of a total of 50,000. In addition, the demand for foreign domestic workers is expected to increase to a total of 300,000 by 2030, up from the 198,000 maids here last year.

The construction sector will also require more manpower as the government ramps up infrastructure development.

The NPTD said demand for these workers on low-skilled work permits could range from last year's level of 250,000 to a high of 300,000 by 2030.

Economist from SIM Global Education, Dr Tan Khay Boon, said meeting the demand for foreign labour in some sectors may be a challenge.

Dr Tan said: "Among all the three areas, the construction sector is more likely easier to meet the demand. This is because a large number of foreign workers have been allocated to this sector to meet the infrastructure development requirements.

"But for the health care sector and the foreign domestic workers sector, this is more difficult to meet the demand. Mainly because these type of jobs locals find it less attractive and on top of that the supply of the domestic workers is limited probably due to the high economic growth rate in Indonesia and Philippines."

NGOs are also concerned about the quality of foreign manpower coming into Singapore as the country grapples with the issue of raising productivity.

Bridget Tan, president and founder of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), said: "We know there are other locations like Hong Kong that seems to attract the better quality migrant workers that are going out of the country because conditions of work in Hong Kong is much better than conditions of work in Singapore.

"This is the truth especially when we come to talk about the laws that protect migrant workers. Will we be attracting the right kind that will be coming in? We have to address those - the right skills and right quality of manpower that will also be productive in Singapore."

Sue Nurses Agency's director Susan Ng shared the same concern.

"Our main concern is to train a better pool to see what kind of health care workers should we recruit and what sort of training we should give and how much can they (provide) benefit to our people or elderly who needs these sort of care," said Ms Ng.

As the number of foreign workers increases, Ms Tan hopes there will be sufficient infrastructure to support them.

Ms Tan said: "For example, if they have a day off, what kind of amenities do we have in place to welcome these people without creating concerns and alarm among Singaporeans. Do we have enough space for housing of these foreign workers coming in here recreational space for them and other facilities to make their lives in Singapore a place where they can also call a second home."

The government has said that the estimated increases in foreign manpower are not targets.

They reflect changes in the demand for workers based on demographic trends.

- CNA/fa

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