Heng says look to Swiss for lessons in worker welfare but ignores Swiss tight FT policy

It was reported in the media today (‘Look to Swiss for lessons in worker welfare: DPM Heng’, 11 May) that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat wants to look to the Swiss for lessons to take care of the welfare of Singaporean workers.

Wrapping up his five-day work trip to Switzerland, Heng said Singapore companies can learn from their Swiss counterparts when it comes to workers’ welfare.

Even as firms there ramp up automation and change their business models, they remain committed to training workers, he said.

He told the media that 2 things have left a deep impression on him during his visit – how seriously Swiss companies take productivity, innovation and technology, as well as how willing they are to collaborate in areas where they have common problems to solve.

It’s good to know that Switzerland as a country, cares about their workers’ welfare seriously.

In fact, Switzerland does more than just simply upgrading their workers’ skills. They have a protective labour policy imposing tight quotas on even “talented” foreigners from countries outside EU to work there.

Not easy for foreigners to work in Switzerland

Trying to obtain a permit to work in Switzerland is not easy and it depends on factors like where one is from, the skills one has and quotas.

Workers from countries outside EU are subjected to strict quota control. They are admitted in limited numbers to the labour market in Switzerland even if they are well qualified. Switzerland makes available only about 8,500 work permits annually to people from outside the EU.

Foreigner can be recruited only if the company can’t hire any within Switzerland or EU. Employers must show that they made “intensive efforts” to find a Swiss, EU/EFTA citizen or any foreign national already in Switzerland with a permit to work. Moreover, employers must show why those with priority who applied were not suitable for the job. That is, the employer must show proof that why those applicants with priority were not suitable.

Also, applicants may be required to know one of the official languages (German, French and Italian). Typically, these foreigners’ application to work in Switzerland can take several months, which means it may be better off for companies to hire a local than to go through the hassle to hire a fresh foreigner, if the companies urgently need a new hire.

Even for British citizens, Switzerland has already announced that if UK leaves EU with no deal, it will impose a quota of 3,500 British nationals who can come to Switzerland to work. That is to say, UK will be considered a third state if it exits from the EU with no deal. Family members can accompany the work permit holders to Switzerland but they are not allowed to work.

In Singapore, we welcome foreign workers with an open arm to work here. Even their spouse can work here too. According to MOM’s website:

Dependants of Employment Pass holders, EntrePass or Personalised Employment Pass (PEP) holder can get a Letter of Consent to work in Singapore if they find a job here.

It’s a pity Heng only focused on learning about training, innovation and technology of Switzerland, and did not study more with regard to their labour policy protecting their own workers.