CALLS for a review of the foreign worker levy will be "looked into" as Singapore is moving into economic headwinds, said newly-appointed Minister of State for the Manpower Ministry Teo Ser Luck.
Mr Teo will also be talking to industry leaders to see if manpower policy responses can be prioritised by sector.
Referring to requests for the government to look into the foreign worker levy, Mr Teo said: "We'll have to look into it to see what kinds of things we can do."
Mr Teo's comments came after a dialogue session yesterday with key representatives of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). He has been tasked to look into the recently announced Lean Enterprise Development (LED) scheme and foreign worker issues at the manpower ministry.
At the discussion, a total of 24 representatives from various sectors, including the retail, construction, hospitality and financial sectors, together with those from foreign chambers of commerce, shared their concerns about how manpower policies were affecting their businesses.
The session touched on a range of issues, including the LED Scheme, number of hours worked, tripartism, and also how the notion of the Singaporean Core can fit into manpower policies.
Chief among these worries were how the foreign worker levy has raised the cost of business operations.
SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng said to reporters after the discussion that all representatives present had no major concerns with the foreign worker quotas, but the levy has been eating into the bottom line for many companies.
"Especially now with the (economic) headwinds that we are facing, maybe the government can consider reducing the levy, or to use some of the levy to help businesses," he said.
President of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association Dennis Foo said during the discussion that there are some businesses who suffered marginal losses because of the foreign worker levy, and "they could have been saved if you allow some leeway or reprieve from the levy."
Speaking to reporters after the session, Mr Teo stressed that he was not committing to any form of policy changes, but the ministry is always reviewing policies based on the feedback from the ground.
However, just as the government is pushing for the workforce to be leaner, Mr Teo noted that the foreign worker levy does add to the overall operating costs of businesses here.
Acknowledging that businesses are hoping that the government can put in some measures to help them defray costs, including the reviewing of the levy, Mr Teo highlighted that challenges will surface when implementing changes.
Mr Teo pointed out that manpower costs would be higher for certain sectors, and thus he would be speaking with representatives from different sectors so as understand the specific issues that they are facing, and how labour factors in as part of their overall costs.
"Everyone's magnitude of the problem they face will be different, so we'll need to prioritise," he said, without mentioning which sectors will have priority.
While these concerns are being looked into, Mr Teo said that there are some issues raised that could be looked into immediately to help companies transition to a leaner and a more localised workforce, including a suggestion raised by Sirpa Ilola, vice-president of EuroCham, to have more Singaporeans helm senior positions of multinational corporations that are based here.
Also present at the discussion yesterday was fellow Minister of State Sam Tan, who will be focusing on the re-employment of older workers, low-wage worker issues and health and safety at workplaces.