Foreign-labour cut, 6.9m figure 'separate issues'
THE decision to cut back on foreign manpower and the 6.9 million population planning parameter set out in the Population White Paper are two separate issues, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday.
"These are meant to serve Singapore in two different ways," he told reporters after he had visited landed homes at Lucky Heights.
On Sunday, Workers' Party (WP) candidate Daniel Goh had asked if the 6.9 million planning parameter is still valid, given that the Government has tightened the inflow of foreign workers.
Mr Lim stressed that the 6.9 million population number was not a target but more a tool to help plan long-term for infrastructure, such as housing and public transportation.
"In fact, we don't want what happened in 2011 to repeat in the future. Remember, as a result we had to rush our HDB construction and so on."
Meanwhile, cutting back foreign worker numbers is meant to ensure that growth of foreign manpower does not outpace that of the local workforce. Another objective, Mr Lim said, is to "strengthen the Singapore core" in every major sector of the economy.
"Therefore, I would say that the two are not in contradiction. In fact, both are trying to serve the interest of Singaporeans," he added.
Mr Lim also disagreed with the WP's idea of freezing the growth of foreign manpower, a point the party made in Parliament previously. And in its latest manifesto, the WP proposed keeping foreign workforce numbers constant if a 1 per cent resident workforce growth target is achieved.
Going by that proposal, Mr Lim said, there would have been "zero growth" in foreign manpower in Singapore in the last three years. And that will hurt local small and medium-sized enterprises which employ about 70 per cent of the country's workforce.
Mr Lim is leading a four-member People's Action Party (PAP) team, comprising Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State Maliki Osman and Jessica Tan, to contest in East Coast GRC against a Workers' Party team that Dr Goh is part of.
Mr Lim told reporters his team will focus on national issues at their second rally.
Resident Gregory Soh, a 61-year-old retiree, felt the election campaign has been focused on municipal issues so far. "What about immigration issues? And I wonder how my children can afford to buy flats," he said.
East Coast GRC, which the PAP team won with a 54.8 per cent vote share in the 2011 General Election is expected to be hotly contested again this year.