| Longer stay for workers from China, NTS sources |
By NISHA RAMCHANDANI
Published March 27, 2012
(SINGAPORE) In a move aimed at giving businesses from all sectors more flexibility, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is extending the maximum period of employment for unskilled work permit holders from China and non-traditional sources from six years to 10 years.
The policy change, which takes effect in July, is a result of feedback from industries as well as from Members of Parliament during the recent Budget debate.
However, the number of work permit holders in Singapore will stay the same as companies will still have to remain within the dependency ratio ceiling (DRC) limits for their sector.
'We believe that retaining well-trained and experienced foreign workers would increase a company's productivity, as it would spare them from having to rehire and retrain another foreign worker,' said Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin in a blogpost yesterday, highlighting that the government recognises the merits in the suggestion raised. 'It also has a positive impact on safety and socialisation considerations.'
Work permit holders from Malaysia and North Asia, as well as foreign domestic workers, are not affected by the extension as they do not face an employment period restriction and can work up to 60 years of age. Non-traditional sources are namely countries such as Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
As part of Budget 2012, the government unveiled several measures to scale back the dependency on foreign workers - including the tightening of foreign worker quotas - aimed at ensuring that Singaporeans remain at the heart of the country's workforce.
However, this has raised concerns from the business community that the foreign worker restrictions are coming at a point when companies are struggling to tackle rising costs and a tight labour market, against the backdrop of an uncertain global economy.
'Should these companies fail, it could put the livelihoods of many Singaporeans at risk, as these companies employ our locals as well,' Mr Tan said in his blogpost.
For the president of the Singapore Contractors Association (SCA), Ho Nyok Yong, news of the extension was extremely welcome. The SCA has been lobbying for change since last year, having put forward their members' views to the MOM.
Sending workers back after six years is counter-productive, especially since Singapore is on a productivity drive, he told BT. Starting from scratch and training new staff requires both time and effort, he pointed out.
'We take pains to train them,' Dr Ho said, adding that workers can then be snapped up by other countries upon leaving Singapore, thanks to years of experience here. '(If) they can stay longer, they can be productive.'
Managing director Billy Ong of the Hup Heng Group, which owns boutique hotel Moon@23 Dickson, also lauded the move, noting that the extra time will serve as a buffer for companies.
Meanwhile, MOM is looking into giving companies more flexibility in terms of how they deploy foreign workers within the same company, in the hope of raising both productivity and efficiency. Previously, foreign workers assigned to a particular job function were not allowed to take on others.
However, this will first be tested out in the hotel industry, with a pilot run set to take place in the second half of this year. If the programme proves fruitful, it could be extended to other service industries.