Monday, September 10, 2007

Some Problems with Foreign Talent Policy

There seemed to be too many foreigners living and working in Singapore these days. A decade ago, when you walked down the streets, you would probably hear familiar languages and dialects such as English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese etc.

What do we have now? People speaking unheard of Chinese dialects, Myanmarese, and other very strange sounding languages which I have never heard of in my entire life. They bring along with them different cultures, habits and behaviour, many of which are pretty different from the typical Singaporean. It is even more contrasting if you compare them with our younger generation who are more westernized in terms of thinking and behaviour.

Opening the door more widely to foreign nationals who work with their special technologies, skills and knowledge will certainly cause both short-term and long-term social problems.

“Movement of people” essentially differs from “movement of goods” , the reason being that the former may cause a wide range of problems, from the minor conflicts in everyday life likely to arise in contacts between people from different cultures, to problems concerning the protection of human rights, and even problems bearing on quintessential question of race and nationhood.

You can argue that these new people will eventually assimilate into our society but how long would they need and to what extent are they able to do so? We must understand that not all people are able to change readily to adapt to changes around them and even if they do, they just might not or are unwilling to adopt some of our behaviours and habits, whether they are desirable or not desirable ones. Is the government going to make them sign something like a social contract, stipulating the list of things they need to do and the deadline of accomplishment?

“Movement of goods” is however much easier to handle. At a particular work field, we have standardized productivity and efficiency control systems in place. The quality assurance specialists would ensure everything pass the assurance test before the goods of consistent quality are being shipped out. Goods are easier to be controlled and manipulated but not people.

Crisis during Recession

Imagine now we have a recession and these foreign workers, who are presumably employed because they are cheaper to hire and/or they are more experienced than our local workers, decide to leave for a greener pasture. What they would leave behind is a massive black hole which might be disastrous for the employers who now have to employ the more expensive local workers to fill the gap thus pushing up their labour costs further up in a turbulent recession period.

And if these foreign workers are willing to stay, there is no guarantee that their employers would not terminate their services in an attempt to cut costs. A prolonged recession would probably generate mass unemployment not just among the local Singaporeans but also among foreign workers. These foreign workers will not disappear into thin air. Some may want to stay behind to seek other jobs and if they are desperate, may work illegally in some industries.

The government should understand fully the reliability of the local Singaporean workforce to mitigate any possible negative impact on domestic industries and labour market. It should control the influx of foreign workers more tightly especially now that we are passing the peak of economic boom and heading towards an unavoidable recession in a few years’ time.

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