Gov’t says will maintain 2/3 “S’porean core” in economy – but numbers raise questions

Lim Swee Say
Lim Swee Say

A “two-thirds Singaporean core in the economy”, that is what Manpower Minister, Lim Swee Say, said is the goal of the government in the “medium to long term”.

Mr Lim, who was the former secretary general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said the 2:1 ratio of Singaporean workers to foreign workers would be maintained.

“We are managing the growth of the foreign manpower at the pace in tandem with the growth of the local manpower,” Mr Lim said, repeating what other ministers have said in recent years. “It’s important that we ensure that two thirds of our workforce will form a strong Singaporean core in our economy … On the whole, we want to do our best to strike this balance.”

Mr Lim also said that the government’s move to tighten the influx of foreign labour into Singapore “was not a reaction to past mistakes.”

Rather, it was “a reflection that realities had changed”, the TODAY newspaper reported him as having said.

“It’s not so much because the policy of the past was a mistake but rather, we are now having a new stage of growth and therefore we have to pursue a new direction,” he said.

While Mr Lim did not seem to have provided official statistics in his claim that the Singaporean to foreigner ratio is 2:1, a check with government data raises questions about this.

MOM website
MOM website

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website, the Total Foreign Workforce as at December 2014 stood at 1,355,700. [Photo above]

And according to the MOM’s “Labour Force in Singapore, 2014” report, the Total Labour Force in Singapore in 2014 was 3,530,800.

MOM's Labour Force in S'pore 2014 report
MOM’s Labour Force in S’pore 2014 report

Of this, the Resident Labour Force stood at 2,185,200.

According to the MOM report, “Residents (also known as locals) refer to Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs).”

MOM's Labour Force in S'pore 2014 report
MOM’s Labour Force in S’pore 2014 report

Although the number of PRs stand at some 540,000 (December 2014), MOM does not provide statistics on the actual number of PRs in the labour force in Singapore.

In summary:

Total Labour Force: 3,530,800

Total Foreign Workforce: 1,355,700

Resident Labour Force: 2,185200.

[Note: the numbers do not exactly tally.]

You can see that the number of Total Foreign Workforce is actually more than one-third.

And if you add in the PRs workforce, the numbers are even more stark – the so-called “Singaporean core” is less than two-thirds.

In fact, government statistics show that the number for the foreign workforce in Singapore may be as high as 50 per cent.

In May 2014, the MOM said that the unemployment rate for Singapore citizens was “3 per cent last quarter”, up from 2.8 per cent, while that for residents (Singapore citizens and permanent residents) was 2.9 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent.

See here: “Foreigners make up 50.5% of total workforce in Singapore?

Based on the numbers given by the MOM itself, it would seem that the foreign workforce strength far exceeds the one-third which the government claims is the case.

The authors of the above article wrote:

An estimated 59,300 residents, including 52,300 Singapore citizens, were unemployed in March 2014 while the seasonally adjusted figures were 62,500 for residents and 55,700 for citizens. [Statistics from MOM report.]

Only 49.5 per cent of total workforce are Singaporeans?

So, although there is no breakdown of the employment statistics for residents into Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), if we divide 52,300 unemployed Singaporeans by their 3 per cent unemployment rate, we get 1,743,333 Singaporeans in the workforce.

Divide this 1,743,333 by the total employment in Singapore of 3,518.700, and we get 49.5 per cent.

Therefore, does this mean that about 50.5 per cent of the workforce are not Singaporeans?

If so, then we may have reached a milestone in our labour statistics – with more than half of the workforce being non-citizens for the first time in Singapore’s history.

Whatever happened to the consistent rhetoric in recent years that the influx of foreign labour will be curtailed?

Read also: “Mr Lim’s two-thirds target of Singapore core – For how long?

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