S’pore cannot afford to close borders completely to foreign workers

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The Manpower Ministry gave leeway for workers needed for key strategic projects and infrastructural works to still be allowed entry.
The Manpower Ministry gave leeway for workers needed for key strategic projects and infrastructural works to still be allowed entry.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
SINGAPORE – Singapore cannot afford to close its borders completely to foreign workers as its economy will be affected, warned the country’s apex business chamber.

Without access to sufficient manpower, there will also be “serious impact” on businesses and the livelihoods of Singaporeans, both in the immediate and longer terms, said the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) on Monday (May 10).

This comes after the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) move last Friday to stop accepting new entry applications for work pass holders from higher-risk countries or regions. This was in response to the resurgence of Covid-19 in several countries and the emergence of new virus variants.

The ministry is also reducing entries from these areas, meaning that some work pass holders who had earlier obtained approval will be rescheduled to arrive later.

The SBF expects this to put a further squeeze on sectors with unfilled labour demand and have a “significant impact on businesses”.

It hopes the new restrictions on entry approvals will be relaxed as soon as the situation allows. “In the interim, we hope that the list of lower-risk countries or regions for which the new restrictions do not apply can be expanded,” it said.

SBF chief executive Lam Yi Young said it is important to strike a balance between managing the risks of imported Covid-19 cases and the manpower needs of the economy. “Businesses have been adjusting to the tighter manpower situation by actively transforming and digitalising their operations, upskilling their local workforce, and trying to attract more Singaporeans to join them. However, businesses must still have access to an adequate level of manpower to remain viable.”

Some businesses struggling to cope with a shortage of manpower have been forced to close or scale down their business, resulting in their Singaporean employees also being displaced, SBF noted.

In the immediate term, if essential services like waste management, healthcare and transport are unable to get the workers they need, this will result in disruptions for Singaporeans, said SBF. “Service sectors like retail and food and beverage will also be impacted.”

Mr Lam added: “As the global economy recovers, without sufficient manpower, our businesses will not be able to seize new opportunities for growth, and this will result in fewer good job opportunities for Singaporeans.”

For example, new investments, such as manufacturing plants, innovation centres or offices, may take longer to be actualised.

The insufficient manpower will also shake investors’ confidence in Singapore and its attractiveness as a business destination. “Should investors decide to exit Singapore as a result, this will mean job losses for Singaporeans,” SBF said.

In announcing the tightened restrictions on work pass holders last Friday, MOM gave leeway for workers needed for key strategic projects and infrastructural works to still be allowed entry.

A day later, on Saturday, MOM announced that foreign worker levy rebates are being increased from $90 to $250 a month for about 15,000 firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors. The higher rebates will apply from this month to December.

The SBF welcomed the move on Monday as it will offer much-needed relief to businesses in these sectors, which have been affected by the tighter border curbs and stricter safe management measures.


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