WORK permit holders working in hotels may now hold up to three positions at the same hotel in a government move to relieve labour shortages in the hospitality industry.

The Ministry of Manpower yesterday announced its Job Flexibility for Productivity plan, a pilot initiative aimed at helping hotels and hostels.

Businesses that want to participate in the programme may apply to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) from Monday.

"Hotels can optimise the use of their workforce by deploying their existing workers to perform more functions, instead of hiring more foreign workers," said Mr Lee Ark Boon, the ministry's divisional director of manpower planning and policy.

"The expected productivity improvements should contribute positively to their bottom lines."

Currently, a work permit holder can perform only tasks specific to the position he or she was hired to do. It is illegal, for example, for one hired as a cleaner to work as a receptionist as well.

Under the new initiative, however, approved businesses may deploy such workers to a maximum of two other jobs in the same company for two years.

Singaporean workers can already rotate between roles.

The programme, which the ministry and STB will review over the next two years, is one answer to the hospitality industry's struggle to recruit and retain workers.

Because it relies largely on foreign labour, the sector has been hit hard ever since the Government made it more difficult for employers to hire foreigners.

There are more than 300 hotels and hostels licensed by the Hotel Licensing Board here. Since July 1, the proportion of work permit and S Pass holders allowed to work in each firm in the services sector has been cut from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.

The Singapore Hotel Association's executive director Margaret Heng said yesterday the move would "help hoteliers manage their resources more effectively".

Mr Kevin Bossino, the regional manager for Accor Singapore, a hotel chain, called it a "positive change".

The group will consider applying for the programme, he added.

The ministry said successful applicants must continue to comply with the Employment Act, which states, among other things, that staff cannot be asked to work more than 12 hours a day.

Employees must also be trained, and paid a fair wage for the extra work.