Singapore will rebalance its foreign worker policy to strike a balance between admitting foreign workers and addressing the economic and social concerns of its people, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The government is aware that such concerns about the country’s foreign worker population have grown as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic, and officials are working to solve them, Lee said in a televised speech on the eve of Singapore’s 56th National Day. Other difficult problems that have emerged during this time and must be addressed include assistance for low-wage employees and the difficulty of preserving racial peace, he added.
“We need to change our rules to control the quality, quantity, and concentration of foreigners in Singapore,” Lee added. “If we do this properly, we will be able to continue to accept foreign employees and new immigrants, which is essential.”
Singapore’s success as a financial center has always been linked to its openness to global talent, modern infrastructure and low taxes that make it one of the most appealing locations in Asia to conduct business, especially as Hong Kong becomes embroiled in US-China tensions. But, for more than a decade, immigrant labor has been a flashpoint in the battle for decent jobs and higher pay, placing the government under continuous pressure to justify its strategy.
“Turning inwards is counterproductive to our basic interests,” Lee said. “It would harm Singapore’s reputation as a global and regional hub.” We would lose employment and opportunities as a result.”
The island’s economy is expected to recover at a rate of 4% to 6% in 2021, with the estimate to be updated this month. After recent viral outbreaks led Singapore to postpone plans to reopen the economy, authorities announced on Friday a relaxation of daily restrictions as well as a modest relaxing of border controls, with more than two-thirds of the population properly vaccinated.
“We are in a stronger position,” Lee added. “We may now anticipate a cautious, step-by-step re-opening of our economy.”
Even as Singapore returns to normalcy, Lee says the epidemic has “taken a toll on everyone of us” and “strained fault lines in our economy.” He emphasized the need of assisting lower-wage employees, who have been hit the hardest and would require ongoing assistance as Singapore transitions to a more skills-based economy.
Lee also addressed recent instances of racial and religious prejudice, stating that “maintaining societal peace requires unrelenting effort.” The nation takes pride in its diversity, with its people instilled, particularly after independence, in putting aside such differences in order to maintain peace and development.
“It took many generations of continuous work to bring our races and faiths together, and develop the common understanding that we now adopt,” Lee said, adding that it is the government’s responsibility to maintain the balance of social cohesion. “Our racial harmony must be renewed, confirmed, and strengthened with each new generation.”