WHILE the Government is slowing foreign worker growth, it has not cut the absolute number of work permits, said Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

He was responding to Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng, president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Many chamber members, he said, had "a common comment: that the old work permit... doesn't get renewed, and the new one doesn't get approved".

This gave the impression on the ground that work permit numbers had fallen, said Mr Teo.

That may seem the case to individual companies, said Mr Tan, but overall labour demand is still growing, and more companies are competing for workers.

So when it comes to work permit renewals or applications, "some companies may not get them, other companies do", he added. "Even as we are calibrating downwards, it is not that the growth (of work permit holders) has become negative."

Asked how many new work permits and S Passes were issued in the last six months, and the net increase or decrease, Mr Tan said the figures will be released early next year.

As of last year, there were 908,000 work permit holders here, including foreign maids, 176,000 Employment Pass holders and 113,000 S Pass holders.

Nominated MP Mary Liew suggested that new job vacancies be made known to unions before the Employment Passes are approved, so that they can search for Singaporean workers.

Mr Tan said the Government is open to the idea, but it could be done without the process being made a formal one.

As for giving companies extra time to find Singaporeans to replace existing foreign employees - which Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) asked for - this can be done on a case-by-case basis, he said.

But not every company's requests can be met, for that might jeopardise the entire framework, he added.