RETAIL chain BQ Mart, which sells barbecue grills, is feeling the heat from the tight foreign worker policy.

It has just one person manning each of its three outlets, and all three are foreigners.

Drivers and warehouse workers are also hard to find, said its business development manager Clement Chon, whose father owns BQ Mart.

Almost every CV he receives is from a foreigner, he said.

Singaporeans who apply ask for "sky-high" wages of $3,000 or more for a frontline position, which the firm "really can't pay", he said.

He pays his staff from $1,950 to $2,150 a month.

Singapore Retailers Association vice-president R. Dhinakaran cited two reasons Singaporeans are hard to hire in the retail industry: some view such jobs "as below their dignity or status", he said, and others dislike the long hours.

Standard retail hours are 10am to 10pm, and shorter shifts are possible only if there are enough people to roster, he said.

In theory, the shortage of locals should not yet be crippling for BQ Mart. It can hire more foreigners, as only four of its 15 employees are from abroad.

In the service industry, workers with S Passes or Work Permits can form 45 per cent of a company's staff strength.

But the problem is that BQ Meat can hire workers only from certain places, said Mr Chon.

Three of its four foreigners are Filipino S Pass holders. This is the maximum: S Pass holders can form only one-fifth of all staff.

The fourth foreigner is from China and a Work Permit holder. Chinese nationals can form only 10 per cent of all staff.

So, if BQ Mart wants more foreigners, these workers must be Work Permit holders from Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea or Macau.

"But even Malaysians do not want to work in frontline retail jobs nowadays," he said.

With many malls opening in Malaysia in the past five years, retailers there are finding it hard to recruit staff too, noted Mr Dhinakaran.

He wishes the Government would allow Work Permit holders from more countries, such as the Philippines.

BQ Mart wants to expand and has a fourth outlet set to open here soon. But the labour squeeze has made further expansion well-nigh impossible in Singapore.

"It's forcing us to move overseas," Mr Chon said.