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Singapore Minister Warns Labour Rules Could Send Economy Into ‘Tailspin’

Foreign labour has long been a big issue in Singapore but the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified locals’ job worries as the city state recovers from recession

A kitchen worker takes a break next to an outdoor seating area of a closed restaurant, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Singapore last year. Photo: Reuters


Singapore’s finance minister has warned the financial hub’s small and open economy could be sent into a tailspin if its foreign worker rules became too harsh.

Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday that companies would move their business elsewhere if the island nation’s policies turned overly restrictive. 

“If we are not careful, decades of hard work to build up our business hub will be wasted, our economy will contract and go down in a tailspin,” Wong said in parliament. “We will end up with far worse problems and it is not the foreigners but Singaporeans who will ultimately pay the price.”   


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Foreign labour has long been a hot issue in Singapore, but uncertainties due to the Covid-19 pandemic have increased employment worries among locals as the city state recovers from last year’s record recession.

The government has been tightening foreign worker policies for several years while taking steps to promote local hiring, including raising the salary threshold for issuing work permits.

Wong said the government will continue to ensure qualifying salaries for foreigners keep pace with local wages and is studying how to improve the framework.

Just under 30% of Singapore’s 5.7 million people are non-residents, up from around 10% in 1990, according to government statistics. But fewer foreigners pushed the overall population down 0.3% last year due to travel curbs and pandemic-related job losses.

A large chunk of the foreigners are low-paid domestic helpers or manual labourers, but it is the numbers of those in higher-paid professional jobs that have been questioned by opposition parties.


  • Reuters and Sean O’Meara


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Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


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