Bloomberg News

Singapore Unions Propose Foreign Talent Limits, Labor Chief Says

June 02, 2011

June 2 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore’s labor unions have proposed ideas to limit the city’s overseas workforce, including quotas for so-called foreign talent, said Lim Swee Say, secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

Some unionists suggested caps on the number of overseas professionals, managers, executives and technicians employed in Singapore, and the island’s foreign labor policies may have to be adjusted, the Today newspaper reported, citing Lim’s comments at a press briefing for the local media yesterday. Lim is also a minister in the island’s Cabinet. The National Trades Union Congress declined to respond to e-mailed questions and referred Bloomberg News to local newspaper reports.

Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party has pledged to change the way it governs and find better ways to serve the electorate after its worst performance at general elections held last month. Opposition parties had tapped on the rising discontent over the influx of overseas workers which citizens say resulted in stiffer competition for jobs, home prices and stretched the city’s public transportation system.

“While it is important for Singapore to be first in global competition, of growing importance is that Singaporeans come first in our local employment,” Lim was quoted as saying in the Straits Times newspaper. “This is the best of both worlds that Singaporeans are expecting.”

More than a third of Singapore’s 5.1 million population is made up of foreigners and permanent residents. While the city has quotas for low and medium-skilled workers, it doesn’t restrict the number of foreign professionals, or those earning at least S$2,500 ($2,000) a month, the Straits Times said.

Foreign Talent Quota

Unionists have suggested a quota for overseas talent to protect Singaporean workers and “discourage a situation where in any particular company, the vast majority” of professionals, managers, executives and technicians are foreigners, the Straits Times cited Lim as saying.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said foreign workers have helped grow the country’s economy and create jobs for Singaporeans. The city added about 116,000 jobs last year when the economy grew a record 14.5 percent and wages rose an average 5.6 percent in that period. Of the new positions created, 59,700 jobs went to foreigners, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

Lee’s ruling People’s Action Party won last month’s election with the smallest margin of popular votes since independence. The PAP returned to power with 81 parliamentary seats out of 87, while losing 39.9 percent of the popular vote.

The National Trades Union Congress represents 60 trade unions and has 500,000 members.

--Editors: Linus Chua, Cherian Thomas

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Tan in Singapore at; Shamim Adam in Singapore at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at; Stephanie Phang in Singapore at

The Good Business Issue
blog comments powered by Disqus