Thursday, July 15, 2010

Foreign worker inflow to top 100k this year

PM Lee says economy will overheat if more foreign workers not let in

Lee Hsien Loong sees the inflow of at least another 100,000 foreign workers into the country.

And this despite the government's efforts to manage the flow with finer calibrations of the foreign worker levy, he told Singapore reporters at the end of a working trip to the United States.

'Even with that, I imagine there will be more than 100,000 extra foreign workers this year,' Mr Lee said. 'I can't see it otherwise, but we have to accept it.'

He said it can't be helped because the labour market is already very tight - and without letting in more foreign workers, the economy will overheat.

While Singapore should be happy about its sterling economic performance this year, Mr Lee said it must also guard against the expectations that it can continue to repeat the performance effortlessly year after year.

Instead, he said Singapore must make the most of its good fortunes now to restructure the economy, upgrade workers' skills and improve overall productivity.

'Unless we make these structured changes, we will not be able to sustain growth,' Mr Lee said.

And he doesn't mean yearly growth of 9-10 per cent, but 3-5 per cent. '(If we achieve that), we will be doing well,' Mr Lee said.

He said the high economic growth attained so far this year partly reflected a rebound from last year's downturn. It's also partly due to new projects that have come on stream - in particular the two integrated resorts that have made a big difference in boosting tourism.

Mr Lee sees the sharp spike in pharmaceutical outputs, which have also made a big contribution to economic growth this year, to peter out in the coming months.

Government stimulus, especially the Jobs Credit Scheme, which has just expired, were not much help this year, because the economy is already in full employment, according to him.

'I don't see the labour market slackening this year,' Mr Lee said. 'We are very tight and we need more workers. So it's right we have withdrawn the stimulus.'

Singapore's economic growth beyond 'the immediate rebound' will depend more on the region - especially the growth in China and India - the global economy and how far and fast Singapore has moved in economic restructuring, he predicted.

Mr Lee said the government, which has taken steps to cool the heated property market recently, would continue to keep an eye on it. And it would introduce more measures if necessary.

When asked, Mr Lee also said he has not decided when to call for the next general election which is due in 2012. 'It's too early to say,' he said.

Mr Lee and his delegation are due back today.

Source: Business Times, 15 Jul 2010

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