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1982: Familiar themes

Decades on, still much ado over foreign labour, public transport and export development .


SINGAPORE found itself trying to tackle some issues in 1982 which still remain pertinent today - foreign labour dependence and transport.

The government announced a new levy scheme in late March with the aim of reducing the dependence on foreign workers and building a wholly Singaporean workforce over the following decade. The 30 per cent levy - capped at S$150 per worker - sought to ensure that the cost of employing a Singaporean wouldn’t be higher than hiring a foreign worker. In particular, the scheme was aimed at discouraging the employment of low skilled foreign workers.

The Ministry of Labour at the time also did away with Central Provident Fund contributions for foreign workers, pointing out that they would not become a permanent part of the workforce. However, skilled foreign workers with good work ethics could be absorbed into Singapore’s workforce.

1982 was also the year that Singapore decided it would build a Mass Rapid Transit system. A traffic study conducted by external consultants weighed the benefits of the MRT against an all-bus transport system and found that an MRT would be more beneficial and efficient for commuters. The report suggested that the bus system at the time would need to undergo heavy restructuring to cope with future transport needs, but would still mean inconveniences for the public.

Meanwhile, a plan to set up a Trade Development Board was met with approval from the business community as the government sought to use it as a platform to boost exports during the recession. In particular, small and medium enterprises were seen as the main beneficiaries as they lacked the scale and contacts that bigger firms had.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at