FOREIGN WORKER POLICY
MP’s counter suggestion to do away with levy and use only dependency ratio sparks debate
SINGAPORE – Many of them went to Parliament with concerns about the economic and social impact of higher foreign worker levies. But when one Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) suggested the levy be abolished, it sparked a spirited defence of the mechanism.
The fourth to speak yesterday, Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) urged the Government to “take the bold step” to remove the levy and just use the dependency ratio to control foreign worker intake.
Mr Low’s reason: “It doesn’t look like a system designed to control the growth of foreign workers, but as a source of revenue for the Government.”
The levy collected for 856,000 work permit holders is now about $1.6 billion annually, noted the Worker’s Party secretary-general, who likened it to an “opium” the Government relies on and a soft option, too, for businesses.
Consult industries and companies and reduce the ratios gradually instead, he said – and the money that would have gone to pay for the levies could then be redirected to local workers’ salaries, for training or to upgrade production processes.
“(A lower) dependency ratio will force employers to look hard at how to re-skill and make Singaporean workers productive instead of looking to relatively lower-cost foreign workers as an option to compete in the market.”
This suggestion was quickly criticised by two People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs.
Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) wanted to “spell out the consequences” and “hopefully, get it clear in his (Mr Low’s) head, what he’s saying” – which was, she felt, that cost of living would go up, among other consequences.
Mrs Josephine Teo (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) stated on behalf of unionists: “We totally and firmly reject Mr Low’s disastrous suggestion … as it’ll harm the interests of our workers.”
She asked: “How does Mr Low propose the Government allocate the foreign worker quota efficiently to businesses, without a levy mechanism? Would it be right for civil servants to pretend to know all about market demand and supply?”
Retorting that it was the “job of the Government”, Mr Low also noted the current tiered levy system was “equally complicated” and has not prevented local wages from being dampened.
Mrs Teo then challenged Mr Low to find a way to allocate foreign labour to industries. “If you let me make a study first, if you give me the Ministry of Manpower, yes, I will propose to you what’s the dependency ratio,” said Mr Low, drawing laughter from the House, before he was asked to sit down.
Mrs Josephine Teo:
How does Mr Low propose the Government allocate the foreign worker quota efficiently to businesses, without a levy mechanism? Would it be right for civil servants to pretend to know all about market demand and supply?
What about the social cost of foreign workers? Removing the levies is turning a blind eye to the social disamenities they create.
Mr Low Thia Khiang (picture):
But I thought that’s the job of the Government? … The member also says that I made comments, I accuse and criticise the Government but I have no alternative …
What solutions do they (the labour MPs) have? … Their views are the same as the Government’s, maybe they don’t even have their own views. They have enough resources so they have solutions, but I don’t have solutions.