Singapore

THE government is willing to allow some "short-term flexibility" on its foreign manpower quota to help companies cope with the shortage of labour, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say on Wednesday.

"For those sectors that have not transformed fast enough, let us work together to help you transform faster. If you need some short-term flexibility on the foreign worker policy, we will consider," he told a gathering of business leaders.

He stressed the condition, however, that those companies that stand to benefit from the relaxed foreign manpower rules must have a "clear action plan" in place to help transform their sector, so as to help the industry grow into one that's both competitive and attractive for Singaporean workers.

Mr Lim made this point at the end of a dialogue jointly organised by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the Singapore Business Federation.

The event, held at the Raffles City Convention Centre, was attended by more than 900 CEOs, senior executives and human resource representatives from Singapore's business community.

The dialogue was organised to give them the opportunity to engage Mr Lim on the recently concluded Budget 2017 and Committee of Supply (COS) debates in Parliament.

The two-hour session was closed to the media, except for the final 15 minutes when the minister gave a wrap-up of some of the main points raised by the audience earlier.

Flanked on stage by SNEF president Robert Yap and Workforce Singapore deputy chief executive Goh Eng Ghee, Mr Lim gave the assurance that the government would do all it can to work together with employers to transform and be as attractive as possible to local workers.

"As long as there is alignment between the business objectives and our employment objectives, we will run together. The skills that are available, do make use of them," he said.

He reiterated several points he made during his speech at the COS debate last week, Then, Mr Lim noted that Singapore's local workforce growth has slowed significantly.

Aging and low birth rates, coupled with already high labour force participation rates, mean this growth is headed for stagnation over the next 10 years.

Singapore has little choice but to learn how to grow the economy with a workforce growth of about one per cent a year, which represents about a 33,000 net increase in total employment a year, he told Parliament.

Mr Lim told the employers at Wednesday's dialogue: "If your sector is not attractive to locals today and in the future, then you are going to face a lot of limitation in future growth as we become more manpower-lean and slow down our workforce growth from 4 per cent to one per cent in the medium term."

He added: "I encourage you to come to us and work together and find a way forward and see how to redefine the business, the jobs and the careers so that, together, we can make your sector a more competitive and attractive one."