Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move “That the Bill be read a second time.”
2. Singapore today enjoys strong economic growth accompanied by plentiful new jobs - an all-time high of 176,000 in 2006, of which 90,900 went to locals. The economic prospects continue to look promising. We have a strong investment pipeline with a number of large infrastructural projects being completed over the next few years. Growth is broad-based across all industry sectors, especially finance, info-communications, marine and process industries. An estimated 450,000 jobs will be available in the next 5 years if the economy grows between 4.5% to 6.5% each year. These positive outcomes are a result of confidence in our economic and labour policies which are business-responsive and pro-growth.
3. Together with NTUC and employer organisations, we have established practices for a flexible labour market, which includes the judicious use of foreign labour to meet rapidly changing manpower demands. Our labour policies and harmonious industrial climate have resulted in jobs for all. Our employment rate is already one of the highest in the World - 76% of working-age Singaporeans are in employment. The strong labour market will get even tighter, as our economy grows. The number of workers needed to sustain this economic growth has exceeded the local supply.
4. The ability of our companies to access foreign manpower is a comparative advantage. But our foreign worker policy cannot be based on a laissez-faire approach, which will be detrimental to our overall progress. To protect the well being of foreign workers, we have imposed conditions on employers for their housing, remuneration and medical coverage. We also carefully identify where foreign workers are needed most and allow them into selected industries. We constantly monitor the labour situation and make fine adjustments to maintain the equilibrium between our economic competitiveness and other social objectives, to enable locals to compete for jobs. For example, we allow more foreign workers in the construction and marine industries where locals are less inclined to work; we allow a lower proportion in the manufacturing and services related industries, and almost none in community based shops and stalls. We have also taken a more liberal approach, with lesser controls, towards foreigners with better qualifications and skills. This is intentional, to attract skilled labour for which there is a global shortage.
5. Workers seeking better employment opportunities abroad is an integral feature of globalisation and benefits both sending and receiving countries. But we should also recognise that there are syndicates which exist in many countries that seek to exploit vulnerable foreign workers. Many exact payment through empty promises of work, only to leave them hapless and stranded in dire straits, especially in those countries which have porous systems or weak enforcement. This is a continuing problem and discussed in many global forums each year. I recently attended a United Nations High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in September 2006, which highlighted the problems of illegal employment and mitigating measures needed be taken by both the source and receiving countries. Employers in Singapore who fall prey to the temptation of cheap labour in order to make a quick profit, can exacerbate the problem of illegal employment. As our economy grows, we can expect the proportion of foreign workers to increase with labour demands, and with it, the temptation to illegally employ foreign workers. Other countries have found that illegal employment can escalate rapidly, if not nipped in the bud. For example, President Bush is pushing through a Bill for tighter border controls but in accepting the...