Budget 2021: Management of Foreign Workforce

Ms Hazel Poa (Non-Constituency Member): Mr Chairman, it was disappointing to note that despite the pandemic exposing our vulnerabilities arising from our over-reliance on foreign labour, the Budget did not present new measures to fundamentally move our economy away from that over-reliance, apart from a tightening of the S Pass quota for the manufacturing sector.

It would have been a golden opportunity to commence the needed restructuring, at a time when the size of our foreign workforce is down significantly, due to the pandemic, when businesses are looking for new ways to rebuild economic activities, a time for a “Reset”, as Institute of Policy Studies, or IPS, calls it.

With only minor tweaks to our work pass and work permit requirements, it is to be expected that the presence of foreign workforce in our economy will remain as large as ever.

Despite our objection to the continued over-reliance on foreign workforce, that is a matter of disagreement over what is the best policy for Singapore, and does not translate into disrespect for the foreign nationals working in Singapore. The contribution of foreign workforce to Singapore’s development has been significant and they deserve to be protected as well, just like our local workforce. 

Our laws, such as the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, and the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act, are meant to prevent discriminatory practices and protect both local and foreign employees.

According to the MOM, a rising number of employers have been penalised for illegally underpaying foreign employees. The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread in dormitories has also exposed the harsh conditions many foreign workers live in, and exposed many inadequacies in the way we manage their welfare. Also, instances of discriminatory hiring practices and violations of the FCF have been highlighted by the public. 

Given our large and growing foreign workforce, does the MOM have sufficient manpower and resources dedicated towards enforcing the relevant laws and regulations? Is it able to assure Singaporeans that its resources have been put to good use, and that its enforcement has been effective? 

Moving forward, how will MOM manage the balance between local and foreign workforce to ensure they complement one another, not replace? With reference to the recent discovery of work pass holders declaring qualifications from an Indian University selling fake degrees in their applications, how will MOM ensure the integrity of its list of accepted Universities and qualifications for work pass applicants?  

What is the plan to prevent a recurrence of severe outbreak of contagious diseases in foreign workers’ dormitories? Can the Minister update us on the improved standards for new dormitories and is the Ministry working on this in conjunction with NGOs? How much has been spent on rehousing foreign workers during this pandemic?

To protect our foreign domestic workers from abuse, will the Minister consider adding an item in the six-monthly medical examination report asking doctors to indicate if they noticed any signs of abuse?