WP’s position on foreign workers has been consistent

[This article was first published in the Straits Times Forum page on 16 Feb 2013]

MR PATRICK Liew Siow Gian (“WP needs to decide on its stand – and stick to it”; Thursday) wrote that during the Budget debate last year, Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had criticised government measures to tighten the foreign worker inflow and argued that this was done too quickly, yet the WP now advocates a freeze on foreign worker numbers.

Mr Liew has read the above out of context. What Mr Low highlighted during the Budget debate last year concerned the allocation of foreign manpower for specific industries, not the overall foreign worker growth rate.

The statements described by Mr Liew were made during an exchange between Mr Low and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the issue of whether the dependency ratio ceiling for foreign workers could be managed by specific industries instead of by broad industry clusters.

It was not a debate on the growth rate of foreign workers or the input of foreign workers to the workforce.

In fact, Mr Low made clear his stand on foreign workers in his speech in Parliament during the same Budget debate last year.

He said: “I agree we should not be over-reliant on foreign workers; we should not allow foreign workers to take away Singaporeans’ rice bowls. This is not protectionism, but a responsibility of the Government to the people. However, we also know that we have limited population, (and) we need foreign workers to fill up the gap in our domestic labour market.”

This is consistent with the WP’s position taken during the Population White Paper debate, in which we called for the overall number of foreign workers to be capped if we can achieve a 1 per cent annual growth rate in the local workforce. Based on June 2012 data, there were already 1.5 million non-residents in Singapore, of which 1.2 million were foreign workers.

The WP is not calling for zero foreign workers in Singapore, but zero growth in foreign workers if we can increase the resident labour force participation rate and rely on the expected natural increase in the number of working-age residents (due to more residents entering the workforce than retiring) over the next few years.

The WP has raised concerns and suggestions at both the macro and micro levels of foreign labour policies. Put together, they do not reflect an inconsistency or contradiction in the WP’s stand.

Gerald Giam
Chair, Media Team
The Workers’ Party