In a media interview at Joo Chiat Community Club on Saturday (10 Jul), Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told reporters that the government is currently looking at how to inject more diversity into the foreign workforce as well as better assess the qualifications of Employment Pass (EP) holders as part of its review of the EP framework.
Tan’s comments came on the back of a heated debate over the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in Parliament last Tuesday (6 Jul), between PAP Ministers and NCMPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) following the delivery of two Ministerial Statements.
Tan said: “The next few measures that we are looking to tighten will be also looking into the consideration of the talent skill sets that are required.”
He said that the government would examine the diversity of the workforce in sectors that need a lot of foreign workers. He told reporters that Ministry of Manpower (MOM) hopes not to see a concentration of workers from a certain source or nationality.
“From the perspective of this Covid-19 pandemic, one of the painful lessons we have learnt is that if you overly rely on one particular country, whether it is labour or for your talent, and if something happens and you get disruption, then you are going to be in a much more difficult position,” he said.
During the debate, Tan disclosed that the proportion of Indian nationals among EP holders had increased from 14% in 2005 to 25% last year. That is to say, among the 177,000 EP holders last year, one quarter came from 1 single country alone — India. He did not disclose figures for S Pass holders.
When asked if MOM would consider imposing quotas on EP holders based on nationality, he said that he does not believe in quotas and that this would be “very difficult” to impose. “There has to be a huge element of the free market,” he said.
Minister Tan was IHH’s CEO before joining PAP
Indeed, Tan even described himself as a firm believer in the free market, saying, “If you look at how our open-door policy has benefited us through the decades, it is to try to not be too prescriptive about how businesses should be run.”
Tan was in fact, the Managing Director and CEO of IHH Healthcare from 2014 to 2019 before joining politics in 2020. IHH Healthcare operates private hospitals like Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and Parkway East Hospital in Singapore.
While the general proportion of foreign nurses in Singapore is reported to be only one-third of the overall nursing workforce, IHH Singapore under Tan’s leadership aggressively recruited foreign nurses in those private hospitals here, resulting in half of its nursing workforce composed entirely of foreign nurses.
In a way, CECA has also helped Singapore to recruit foreign nurses since during the second review of CECA which was concluded in 2018, Singapore agreed to expand coverage of Indian nursing institutions by recognising 7 Indian nursing institutions.
This was not disclosed during the Parliamentary debates last week but certainly the news was published by the Indian authorities back in 2018:
Nursing has been described by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a “highly skilled and professional” job in 2013 after a footnote in the Population White Paper — which projected the Singapore population at 6.5 – 6.9 million — labelled nursing a low-skilled job.