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Manpower issues concern S'poreans most: feedback

Sustained chatter on discussion channels also about transport, population matters

[SINGAPORE] Manpower issues were on the top of the minds of Singaporeans, with government feedback arm Reach receiving the most number of comments about Singapore's foreign worker policies, and the dominance of foreigners in industries such as banking and IT.

Some were worried that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here would struggle to cope with the government's move to further tighten the Employment Pass (EP) framework, which was made known earlier this year during the Budget. Others, however, wanted to see even more tightening of the EP criteria so that Singapore can further reduce its reliance on foreign manpower, and pay more attention to grooming local talent.

During the Budget debate, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that further adjustments will be made to the EP framework to tighten eligibility requirements for EP holders. These adjustments were announced in September by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) under what it called the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), which said that the qualifying monthly salary for new EP applicants will be raised to $3,300 from $3,000 from 2014 onwards.

Companies will also have to prove that they have tried to hire Singaporeans first before they are allowed to apply for an EP to recruit a foreigner. This affects firms with more than 25 employees which are hiring for posts that pay less than $12,000 a month.

Many contributors to Reach had voiced frustrations over the unfair hiring practices of some companies which they said favoured foreigners, and questioned the dominance of foreigners in industries such as banking and IT. The FCF was therefore welcomed by many, although some also pointed to "loopholes" which they said employers could exploit - such as offering low salaries that would be unattractive to Singaporeans, so that jobs can still eventually go to foreigners.

Apart from manpower, transport and population matters also captured the attention of Singaporeans. Discussion channels saw sustained chatter over the high Certificate of Entitlement (COE) prices, and general public transport woes. Many also voiced unhappiness over the Population White Paper's estimate of a 6.9 million population by 2030.

Overall, Reach received more than 43,000 feedback inputs up to November this year. Of these, 4,300 were related to manpower issues while the topics of transport, and population and immigration, received 2,900 and 2,800 inputs, respectively. Reach gathers feedback online and through face-to-face conversations, dialogues, forums and focus group discussions.

Said Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower and Reach Chairman: "The public's feedback, views and suggestions through Reach, as well as those raised at OSC (Our Singapore Conversation) sessions and through various government agencies, have contributed to significant policy changes announced over the course of the year.

"In the coming year, Reach will keep the conversation going between the Government, the community and the people as we embark on a new chapter in the Singapore story. We will continue to reach out to various segments of the population to get their views on various policies and national issues. We will do so via our face-to-face dialogues and forums, as well as via our online platforms."