What’s wrong with having foreign workers?

SINGAPORE: Instead of accusing foreign workers of taking jobs away from Singaporeans, one company said Singaporeans should be thankful that foreign workers are able to help the country’s economy to grow.

This stance coincides with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s message in his May Day Rally speech on Thursday.  Chinese national Yu Ruo came to Singapore about seven years ago and found a job at manufacturing company, Makino Asia. With a stable income, he was able to bring his wife to Singapore two years ago, and the couple applied for permanent residency last month.

"First of all, Makino Asia is one of the better known companies in the industry, so this attracted me to come to Singapore and settle here," said Yu.

About 15 percent of Makino Asia’s 470 employees are foreign workers. Over the years, 30 percent of them have become permanent residents or Singapore citizens.

Unfortunately, not all Singaporeans welcome foreign workers with open arms.
"For the time being, foreigners are not allowed to work in this market," one Singaporean said.  "Yes, they (foreigners) are stealing our rice bowl. And most of them are using illegal means," another said.

Dr Moh Chong Tau, CEO of Makino Asia, said: "I do not agree. In fact, we should be thankful to them for creating more jobs for us… For jobs that are not taken up by Singaporeans, we get foreigners to occupy those vacancies in order to create more jobs."

He also said Singaporeans who feel their jobs are being taken away by foreigners are short-sighted. "This group of people should not be fearful about losing low-end jobs to foreign workers. They should take the opportunity to acquire more skills and enhance their revenue and livelihood," he said.

Dr Moh believes Singaporeans should compete with advanced countries where the value of jobs is much higher, which means such jobs also command better wages.
– CNA/so


Frankly, all these years, I’ve never understood the fuss about foreign workers by Singaporeans. Why complain that they are taking away jobs? Why complain about their presence in our void decks? Why complain that they are different from us?

Not that I want to spout what the Gahmen earnestly taught us in school and continues to hammer on our heads with the state media, but really, common sense and conscience should tell you that nobody owes us a living.

Sometimes, I wonder, have we become so full of ourselves on this little island that we cannot accept that other people may speak and behave differently from what we’re accustomed to? I mean, it does take a little while to get used to the mainlander accent, but hey, that lady cooks a mean ban mian.

Xenophobia’s been around for a long time but to need to have the Gahmen constantly telling us to stop fretting about foreign workers in our midst? C’mon people. We’re made of tougher stock than that.

Perhaps I’m just having wishful thinking, but sometimes I do believe when my forefathers came to this hot (hot) island, they possessed way more steel in their backbone than their descendants do today. They were the immigrants, and I wonder what the natives thought of their entry into the island. Everyone had to fight to make their lives worthwhile, so what makes it different now?

The difference is that we are no more eligible for the same job than any other person with the same qualifications and same desire to make it happen. Are we so insecure we cannot deal with competition? Must we paint ourselves as being privileged?

I remember a turning point in my life when I was in Sec One and my classmates were mostly Malaysians and ASEAN scholars. I didn’t understand very well why they would tolerate the hassle of travelling across the Causeway, or leave their home in KL, just to study in Singapore, but over the year of 1989, they taught me why they just couldn’t bear to study in a country where they were being impacted by Malaysian education policy. But they, and obviously their parents, sought a much better life despite the odds, and they were willing to tough it out and be away from their families at a young age.

Today, most of those guys are highly successful, either docs or lawyers or whatever, and perhaps they don’t think too hard about the tough times they had to endure in secondary school. But I do, and I still admire them for what they did in order to excel.

Granted, they were all pretty smart guys, and had the ability to get scholarships that most people can’t. But there’s no point being smart without being ambitious or knowing the way out of the mire. And they sure didn’t need any civil servant to tell them to overcome the odds.

If young Singaporeans still need the Gahmen to tell them what is the right thing to do, or just the simple matter of how not to fear the unknown, then I believe we’re done for as a society.

22 Replies to “What’s wrong with having foreign workers?”

  1. Why the news doesn’t show pictures of foreigners working in the office, instead in a construction worksite?

    They aren’t stupid, and this does not mean Singaporeans are stupid. In fact they are everywhere, in every sector. They are filling up the posts which could be filled up by a local poly or degree students. They must be crazy thinking that they will convince us by showing us a video on the workers in the construction site. My mom stays at home all day too knows what crap the government is showing us in the news.

    It is very disturbing when we need to serve NS when they do not and are receiving these competitions (does not mean I reject competition). We get the same pay, sleep in the same environment, emm… what we get are some subsidies on our medical bills, get some money at the end of every year, hmm… nothing more I can think of. The worse thing on earth they can do is restricting local from attending local university. Are they over abusing the word “competition”? Are Singaporeans made worse off?

    Okay. We are shortsighted. Then tell us why I still see foreigners in the office? They should be working as construction workers.

    Since they like foreigners so much and they take good care of the foreigners, why not ask the foreigners to carry rifles for us then right? Often the gahman should represent citizen and look after their interest. If not, why do we want to be a Singaporean when our interests are not taken care of? Perhaps this could one of the reasons why Singaporeans are leaving Singapore. If the gahman does not do their job and we cannot do anything to change them, then we would likely to make changes to our life.

    Do you still think that is wrong? My answer is no it is not wrong but yes when you over do it!

    Like what I always say: “If you cannot change the environment, change yourself to suit it!” I would like to add one more sentence: “If you find it hard to adapt the environment, look for another one”.

  2. Let me share a story. My mum who works as a cleaner was in the kopitiam having her lunch, and she started chatting with an old lady in her 60s at the same table, who was also working as a cleaner.

    The old lady said she had been working as kitchen helper/ cleaner at different food court chains and famous kaya-bread-coffee chain for many years. She was paid $4.50 an hour when she first started her ‘cleaner career’ a few years ago.

    Then the kopitiam stall boss said he can employ younger helpers from China for $4.20 an hour. So she was out of job. Then she found another kitchen helper job that paid $4 an hour. Soon the boss said he can employ China helpers for $3.50 an hour. So she was out of job. Then she found another job that paid $3.20 an hour. A few months later, boss said he can employ China helpers at $3 an hour…

    Today the old lady earns $2.40 an hour. She has to work for 2 hours to buy herself a decent meal in the kopitiam chain she works in. She heard Singaporeans must be grateful to have jobs, and that people who work until they are in their 80s are celebrated. Maybe she will earn $0.50 an hour when she’s in her 80s, because she has to compete with younger people whose families’ cost of living is in RMB, not S$.

    Ministers give themselves pay increments in tens and hundreds of thousands, by preaching “there are many unskilled / low-skilled jobs where Singaporeans are unwilling to take up…”

    Do you think the old lady is so insecure she cannot deal with competition? Do you think she paints herself as privileged?

  3. Yeah, I knew this post would elicit these sort of comments. My concern is that this comments page will end up being like some sammyboy forum debate that goes nowhere, but hey, let me respond accordingly.

    Dear ck, I don’t think the ministers are factually wrong when they say there are many jobs that locals don’t want to take up. That’s reality and somebody’s got to fill that void.

    Now for the old lady who’s being squeezed out of a job by ever lowering wages – that’s also a reality and it’s something that will happen sooner or later as borders open and manpower flows freely.

    The question for me is – what is the minimum wage that the stall holders will end up offering and are locals willing to settle for that? If not, THEN foreigners who are willing to will fill the void. They often earn much less than we do back in their hometown, and it’s only common sense that drives them here. That’s the very same reason that immigrants came to Singapore in the first place.

    What isn’t brought up in such debates – if locals cannot bear the competition, are they willing to uproot and move to somewhere where competition is less or living costs are lower? We look to blame someone for something that goes wrong, but are we as ready to accept competition as it is and deal with it? The cost of living here will go up inevitably, and at a faster rate than most of the region due to various factors.

    Now, I don’t think the old lady is insecure or privileged, but has she considered other options? A continuing train of thought in this blog is that one must create options within their means, or stay where they are.

    Let me tell you another story – I once took a taxi where the driver kept railing on about how unfair the local taxi companies were on several issues. My question to him, pretty bluntly was “So what have you done about it? Why are you still driving their taxi?”

    His answer? “Aiya, why create trouble, I still need to feed my kids.” So why complain about his employer then, if he doesn’t want to change the scenario to benefit himself? He wasn’t always a taxi driver, and he needn’t be.

    The point I’m trying to make is that Singaporeans whine for the wrong reasons. We don’t look at the root of the problem enough, and sometimes we don’t realise we contribute to it.

  4. And by the way, if one thinks that asking foreigners to serve NS would somehow make locals feel better, I seriously doubt it.

    How would YOU like it if you intend to move to another country to work and the Gahmen there asks you to serve 2 years of NS first?

    Talent moves according to demand and supply. If we can’t supply the talent, then somebody else has to.

    The issue about NS is one totally separate from the foreign worker issue. Personally I loathe having to go in-camp, but I’ve never thought a foreigner should serve in my place.

    If you think that your interests are not being taken care of as a citizen, it’s completely within your rights to move out, and many already have.

    So why are locals being shut out of jobs? Ever thought that that the competition may have better eligibility to fill those vacancies?

  5. Interesting topic that will never die.

    If you can’t compete with the FT, then don’t compete. Choose the industry to compete in. Choose the “battlefield” that gives you the advantage.

    The people made worse off in this situation are typically those that don’t know how to adapt themselves or don’t know the avenues to help themselves.

    As for people complaining about FT holding office jobs. If I’m a boss and have to choose who to hire, without question is to hire the one suitable for the job at the right price. Who would hire a local if the FT can do a better job? I’m not saying all FT are better than locals though. It’s basic economics, at least to me.

    Keyword is value.

    Compete in the field at which you can provide more value. Never ever compete on price because normal people make money by selling time. If you price yourself low, prepare to sell more time. E.g. take 2 jobs.

    For Singaporeans to understand the whole foreign talent situation, the government should really make economics a compulsory lesson in school.

  6. Teoh, good post, but I think it’s Singaporeans who ought to get smarter and learn how to take econs in school on their own initiative.

    After all, the Gahmen will try to promote any subject that it’s trying to fill an industry with. Remember how they tried to push everything from biosciences to the arts? Nice initiative, but often too late and too full of hype.

    To me, the top modules any student must take are:

    1. Economics (to understand the basics of business)
    2. Philosophy (to understand how to think)
    3. Biology (to understand how living things work)

    And if you must…
    4. Literature (to appreciate words)
    5. Art (to learn how ugly the colour schemes HDB flats are afflicted with)
    6. English/Chinese (duh)

    Everything else is pretty optional IMO. I found Chemistry, Physics, most maths modules a real pain and not really useful in the real world. So what if I could differentiate numbers? My son will ask me this in 7 years time and I’ll be hardpressed for an answer.

  7. Like I have said in other blogs, if you are not thinking like what most people are thinking, then you are not being very rational.

    I agree with you that if you choose to live in this environment, you should suit yourself to the environment.

    Given that you are unhappy with the current environment, this does not mean that you are actually not doing anything but just whining. Why do people whine? Did you ever think of this problem? Obviously, they can do nothing much as they have reached their boundary and is hard for them to have a further improvement (might be due to other reasons like family matters).

    What is the role of the G? Everywhere in the books says G is there to protect the interest of the public and her citizen from fraud and undesirable practice, taking money from the rich to help the poor and so on. If otherwise, probably, the G is siding to the bosses.

    From the current situation, what I can see after some reading, my shallow knowledge had already told me that our G are trying to build up the economy at the disadvantage of her people. Why did I say that, from what I read from one of the blogs, 60% (Correct me if I am wrong. Anyway,) of Singaporeans do not need to pay tax! As for now what is so great when a population of 60% is not being lifted up given that the economy is booming?

    Our G says that we are depending on foreigners to create jobs for the local. This gives me the impression that. Our G wants an economic BOOM but there is no ready available labour for that. (Is the root of this problem, Education?) Hence, the short cut for a BOOM is more likely to be a use of external labours, both skilled and unskilled.

    The foreign skilled workers will take up post which can’t be found locally and this drives up their salary (supply and demand). A great influx of unskilled workers would drive down the salary of the lower income worker. Now, I have a few questions. Would this lead another round of income widening? What is the side effect of economic boom? Isn’t it our friend call inflation? Isn’t this a double whammy for the mass 60% of our fellow Singaporeans? Another good example: After going through a few courses, my dad, a security guard, 60, receiving 3 dollars per hour, have not been receiving any salary increment for the past 4 to 5 years and our G have been pretty quiet on this. When every damn things goes up except the salary, what can we do other than the change of policies? I do not blame my dad for not being active as he has done his part. Who to blame then? The system?

    As for now, I do see that most Singaporeans are being sandwiched between two different classes of foreigner workers. That is why it is not surprising that ck’s mother is having some problem there.

    The concern is why are we talking about economic boom where a huge number of us not being able to benefit or rather being disadvantage from the economic success.

    Those people are peasants who need to serve national service and they need to go back to camps on and off for the next 10 years. Given that now the bosses have a choice of choosing a foreigner and a local (assuming both have the same qualification) who do you think the boss will choose? (Given that most firms are foreign companies and no discrimination to labour)

    In your perspective life can be easy and good however, please think of the unfortunate one who do not have the ability (due to various reasons) to compete.

    The simplest thing our G can do is to lend a helping hand to those people. A good example, Thailand, is distributing provisions at a low price. Don’t you think this action will win over the hearts and minds of the people and preventing further leakage of the Thais in years to come?

    Living in Singapore for the past 25 years, what I felt was for the past five years, our G has lost interest being welfare to the people and what really matter is money. Welfare is only given when our G is being squeezed by the public (rather unwilling I would say). However, what I feel, true or not, agree or not, doesn’t really matter.

    Like what I always believe, what our G says does not represent peoples’ feeling. I have just said that if you are not thinking of what most people are thinking, you are not being very rationaland then we shall see what will happen in the next GE.

    As for me, I will continue to study my economic books to look for the answers. If nothing changes, be it my perception or political after my graduation, perhaps it is time for me to plan for my future and look for system that make me feel that I am being treasured and knowing I will be taken care of when I grow old. This is what I call mutual respect.

  8. Hi Anon,

    The best reply I can give is

    1. Live a little longer to gain more experience in the workplace and understand the ebb and flow of manpower and money. Economics is the result of many many factors. The current inflation we see results from a whole host of things from sub-prime crisis, weakening US $, drop in supplies of food supplies, increasing oil prices. Frankly, foreign talent doesn’t really figure in the rising prices issue. Local wages have been suppressed also due to many other reasons like repeated recessions in 1997 and 2001, and the fact that people actually stay in the same job/same pay without moving on.

    2. Don’t come with the assumption that the Gahmen seeks to meet your needs first. Governance is more than meeting individual desires over larger matters. Say what you like, but you do enjoy a safe and comfortable country to stay in, and that’s not because the population simply wished it into being. (And no, I don’t work for the Gahmen).

    3. Whoever said life would be easy and good? Life is tough, live with it. But then again, you have access to the Internet, which is already better than many people out there.

    4. Like I said earlier, NS shouldn’t be brought into the discussion. If you’re good at what you do, there’s no reason why your boss should favour you over someone else when you’re away for reservist.

    5. Welfare can turn into an opiate of the masses. The weak, the disabled, the poor need a helping hand from the Gahmen, yes. But for everyone else, it’s the law of the jungle that applies. And shutting out foreign talent from low-end jobs is the not the end-all solution.

    Yeah, basically I could go on and on and try to have the final say in everything because it’s my blog.

    But Anon, there is a need to see the bigger picture as to why there is so much resentment against foreign talent which I feel is largely driven more by emotions than anything else.

    The answer lies not with the Gahmen, but in history, and our forefathers, and what they did to overcome adversity and trials when they themselves were foreign talent. Singaporeans, largely, have a poor historical grounding (actually, they have poor grounding in almost everything), and don’t seek to find out more answers from the past.

    Like I said at the beginning, nobody owes you a living, and even though I have to pay tax, I don’t look to the Gahmen to solve my problems. I may not like their style of politics, but their policies allow me to work in peace and support my family where I can.

    If it’s anything I want to ask the Gahmen to do, it’s remove that annoying TVMobile from buses.

  9. “Whoever said life would be easy and good?” – doesn’t that sound like a Wee Shu Min quote? The issue about foreigners taking away jobs from locals is just that – why should the locals lose out from the outsiders? Who supported Lee Kuan Yew during the turbulent years of fighting for independence? Who made the sacrifices during the industrialisation programs? Who gave up their farmlands to move into HDB blocks? Who stopped at two, spent two years in uniform, and abided obediently to other policies as they were passed down? And who took the minister’s words at face value when promised a “Swiss standard” of living? This is more than xenophobia, this is just reclaiming our basic rights. Oh, BTW have you noted that while Lim Swee Say supported the hiring of China crows to encourage beer drinking, he is NOT in support of foreigners holdling office in NTUC, nevermind if one quarter of their membership is made up of foreigners.

  10. Here we go again. Well, why can’t NS comes into play in this debate? I guess that we have heard enough of how the employers choose some of their candidates – they look at reservist liabilities for the years to come, if they select Singaporean candidates.

    Yes, there is a bigger picture here and it is not about the economy.

    In most situations, it is we, the citizens of Singapore have to adapt to ineffectiveness of the foreign workers. For example, if the foreign service staff cannot speak English, we, the citizens of Singapore have to speak their languages to buy things with our money. In the end, we serve them more than they serve us. Sometimes, it becomes our fault that we as their customers who cannot communicate with the sales staff.

    We can go on and on. But, at the end of the day, the government would rather piss off her own citizens than to piss off the foreign workers. I hope that people remember what happened in the soup kitchen incident.

    One thing is needed here – fairness.

  11. Hi folks,

    Much as I appreciate your views, can I suggest one thing to make this conversation more constructive?

    Reduce the tendency to look to the Govt. for gratification of every complaint. If you want change in the civil service, try joining them and see the challenges involved. They could do a better job, of course, and if you read this blog more, I do bemoan their many shortcomings….but I do appreciate many of the things they’ve achieved with both local and foreign talent’s help.

    Ask yourself, if you were an private sector employer, are you able to implement a policy where you’ll just employ Singaporeans and not foreigners, regardless of your cash flow, profit needs, talent needs and so on. A lot of this debate is centred on the Gahmen, and not enough on employers who ACTUALLY employ the foreigners over locals. Now why do they do that? How could they do it differently to benefit locals? You’ll find the answer pretty hard to find, I believe.

  12. And please remember the point of my posting here is simply – Please don’t look to the Gahmen to solve every problem. On one hand we complain we are a nanny state. On the other hand, we complain they don’t do enough, aren’t fair to us, and ought to fix everything from seatbelts on buses to ensuring doctors don’t over-Botox patients.

    As I’ve said, one root cause of the foreign talent debate is not govt policy, but local employers who choose to hire FT over locals for a variety of reasons.

    An indication that this society is moving forward is when we can provide answers to tough problems by ourselves, rather than wait (or gripe) for somebody to provide them.

    And for goodness sake, if anyone else dares compare me to Wee Shu Min, I’m banning that person from commenting here. I’m from ACS, for one thing. We are the philosophical opposites of Rafflesians. Like Michael Jackson says : “Have you seen my childhood?” Probably not, but I ain’t no MP’s daughter and I don’t write off people from any social strata.

  13. “A lot of this debate is centred on the Gahmen, and not enough on employers who ACTUALLY employ the foreigners over locals.”

    The answer to this sentence is: Malaysia. What our G gives is base on THEORY. I am a very practical person. I will see what is given to me and decide what to do next.

    I give an example, the CPF. The money in the CPF is not mine if the money is not in my pocket.It is only stated in the paper that the money is mine. One can consider that the money is his/her when it is due for collection.

    “Foreigners are here to secure our job.” This is also base on theory. Foreigners are here to secure jobs for the other foreigners and this could be possible too. So, how true is the former? Base on netizens’ opinion (base on what I have read for the past 2 years), this is not really very true (does not mean not true). When our people have a hard time finding a job, this reflects that most of the time foreigners are securing most of the jobs to supply to foreigners.

    I do not wish to discuss more on the capability of handling a job. It will be lengthy. However, I stressed more on what is practical and opportunity.

    In the end, I believe most people would only believe in things that they see and not base on theory and what matter most is that our G cannot run away from the duty of being people’s G as it is US (partly true) that put them into power. I believe this is common sense.

  14. And gosh, I’ve never managed to be able to vote for the past 11 years as it’s always been a walkover. So I sure didn’t put this govt. into power.

  15. Do you need working experience to tell you that our G has little interest in the welfare of the people? Just look around. What happen to others will likely happen to you.
    Maybe the day when I return to the workforce, (anyway I hate office politic) will be the day to show the selfish side of me as gift to our selfish G. A bad plant bears bad fruits. Isn’t that great?

  16. Anon, do provide an update when you’ve returned to the workforce. Perhaps you may have a different outlook then.

    Also, you’ve just proven the whole point of my blog post.

  17. I read what you wrote at the top.

    It will be a sad day when Singaporeans like you take over.

    When you are a citizen of a country, you expect the govt to protect your means of livelihood when instead you find the govt letting in people from other countries to STEAL your job. On the one hand the govt blame Singaporeans for not taking up certain jobs and so it has to allow companies to recruit from abroad. But on the other hand, it also allow in foreigners to take over jobs that Singaporeans are in, this time in the name of globalisation/lower cost etc. On top of this the govt willy nilly allow the cot of living to shoot up and in fact actually contribute to this higher cost by upping the GST!

    It is irresponsible and being hard heart to suggest that affected Singaporeans should also uproot themselves and go overseas to make a living like the foreign workers who come over here. Let me ask you where can mid-career folks, family men in their 40s and even 50s go to find a job overseas. Do you not see that 99% of the foreigners who come here to work, including work pass holders, are young people, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get a job here!

    Be fair, don’t just shoot off your mouth like that and downplay peoples difficulties.

  18. Dear George, like I said above, look to the past and what our forefathers did to overcome their problems. They were dirt-poor too with families, but they had to do what they had to do.

    And no, I’m not interested in ruling this country. I’m interested in staying relevant in my job and keeping it, feeding my family and enjoying life despite its difficulties. By the way, I will uproot myself and my kids if I need to, but I’m not asking others to do so – IT’S AN OPTION, FOLKS. I happen to know quite a few FT who have uprooted here with their families too, some on local terms, so it’s not 99% young FT as you say.

    To each his own, and let’s keep the conversation civil please. I’m not an apologist for the Gahmen, but as I’ve said plenty of times, they don’t have an easy job and you should put yourself in their shoes sometimes. Inflation is usually at 4% a year and has risen recently due to external factors few governments can control.

  19. Anyway, guys, it’s been fun chatting away, but if you wanna debate this further, please email me can? My email: iantan @ pacific.net.sg

    This debate is not going anywhere, here or on other blogs/forums for a long time. Views are too polarised, resentment against the Gahmen is too strong, and hey, I’ve got to earn my pay in the real world.

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