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Foreign workforce numbers – moderating or increasing?

By Osman Sulaiman

I recently posted a short comment regarding the inflow of foreign workers on my Facebook page.

The post was made in response to an article that quoted our Prime Minister as saying Singapore cannot ease up on the limits placed on the inflow of foreign workers currently put in place by the government.

Let’s analyse some facts to see if that statement made by our Prime Minister is not just hot air.

In 2011, after the general election, in his National Day rally speech, PM Lee said that he will moderate the inflow of foreign workers. He repeated this in 2012.

But in 2013, the government dropped a bombshell on Singaporeans in the form of a possible 6.9m population in the Population White Paper.

Now, the following table is taken from the Ministry of Manpower website.

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As you can see, between Dec 2011 till Dec 2013, EP work holders were reduced marginally by 300.

However, what caught my attention was that there has been a significant increase for S Pass holders between Dec 2011 to Dec 2013.

47,000 to be exact.

This is 15,900 or 51% more, as compared to the period of Dec 2009 to Dec 2011.

Work permit holders increase substantially too, by 77,000 during the period of Dec 2011 and Dec 2013. It’s a 47% or 24,700 increase from previous 2 years.

Our total foreign workforce increased by 123,700 between Dec 2011 to Dec 2013 – that’s more than 60,000 each year.

Our population now stands at 5.39 million. Based on the table provided, if we take the trend that every year, our foreign workforce increases by an average of 61,850, plus 23,000 new citizenship granted on average each year, we will then realise that the 6.9m population white paper which the government has released, will be a reality, and not just a “planning perimeter.”

What does this really mean? We can derive two understandings from looking carefully at the hard figures.

First, we can safely acknowledge that the data from MOM showed that foreigner worker numbers have actually not decreased, and have instead continued to increase, albeit at a decreasing rate.

We also realise that the 6.9m is clearly no longer a “projection for planning purposes”, as the government has declared about the Population White Paper. Instead, we are now struck by the chilling reality that it is indeed a very possible target.

Second, we need to realise that the government has done nothing to really reduce Singapore's reliance on foreign workers in a bid to transform our economy. Looking at these figures, all they have done is play with the tap.

When we look at these figures and match it in retrospect to an announcement made during Budget 2014, when the government quite literally “allowed” the construction industry to delay until 2016 its transition to a more innovative and productive workforce, we are struck with the realisation that the tap for foreign workers can be turned back on to full blast at any time.

At no point have we been assured that the government plans to review the actual evolution of Singapore's manpower needs, away from the current excessive reliance of foreigners to a model that puts the Singaporean workforce at the core.

It is of paramount importance that the government should come clean on its policy directions. It should not create an artificial impression and mislead the nation.

The journey towards a 6.9m population is now in progress. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Any attempt to say that it is a “worst case scenario” is just chicanery to win an argument. As the election looms, we need to decide diligently whether we want Singapore to transform into a country we no longer recognize.

Osman Sulaiman is a member of the National Solidarity Party (NSP).