[UPDATE at 12:30am: adding comments from Association of SMEs]
Singapore needs to go “cold-turkey” after years of opening its gates wide to large numbers of foreigners, says Member of Parliament (MP) Tin Pei Ling.
In a note on her Facebook page posted on Sunday evening, Tin, who represents Marine Parade group representation constituency (GRC), said she held this view even after meeting a group of local businessmen who were struggling to find workers.
“I believe the current moves to constrain foreign labour force growth is the right long-term measure, especially so given the limited physical capacity we have,” she wrote.
“In a way, Singapore has to go into ‘cold-turkey’ after years of allowing huge inflows of foreigners. Politics should be about having the courage to make the best decision at any given point in time, and act on it,” she added.
Tin also pointed out that the country needs to acknowledge the “painful tradeoffs” it is making with the government’s new policies on foreign workers in place, referring to the impact of the policy on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
To do that, she said, Singapore needs to also give more help and time for SMEs and businessmen here to adjust to “the new circumstances”.
In speaking to them, Tin said they do understand the government’s need to reduce foreigner inflows, pointing out that “they are Singaporeans too”, although she noted their belief that the anti-foreigner sentiment tells but one side of the story, pushed forward by a group of vocal individuals.
“Their current plight shows that this is a complex issue, that foreign manpower is not all bad, and is in fact an important complement to our own labour force,” she wrote.
Responding to Tin's comments on Monday evening, vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises Kurt Wee said SMEs should not have to have to pay for the costs of labour policy reversal.
Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore, Wee pointed out that many businesses grew due to the rapid rise in Singapore's population when its floodgates were opened to foreigners.
"When you have the local population growing at that kind of breakneck speed, there are many SMEs that make investments in hiring, training, expansion of business infrastructure and taking larger leases to grow their businesses locally and overseas," he said.
"SMEs were not the ones who pushed for the massive influx of cheap labour in the first place," he added. "We go by the market and we respond to the market. As populations grow, businesses have to make the necessary investments to grow and many SMEs did so."
Wee pointed out that SMEs have already been paying increasing levies, wage adjustments and the increasing cost of business space, among other areas of rising expenses.
"The government needs to think of ways to minimise the cost impact on SMEs, and politicians need to consider who is responsible in the first place for creating the huge influx of foreigners," he said.
Wee contended that there are many other areas and policies that could stand the "cold-turkey" treatment, such as the imposition of further curbs to prevent Singaporean gamblers from channelling as much money as they do at the country's two casinos.
"SMEs cannot be made to bear the cost of 'policy volatility' pre- or post-election," he said.
Tin’s comments come as Singapore struggles to deal with the impact of a rapid growth in population after millions of foreign workers were welcomed into the country over the past decade.
The government’s liberal immigration policy has been widely viewed as the reason for rising cost of living, housing and healthcare, as well as the source of greater competition for jobs and places in schools here for locals.
The 28-year-old MP was the target of online criticism as a greenhorn in last year’s general election, where she stood alongside emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in the GRC against a National Solidarity Party team that included the election’s youngest candidate Nicole Seah.
She has since made active efforts to help the mentally ill community in Singapore, among other causes she has advanced in her ward, Macpherson.
A clip of a man hitting an office worker – who appears to be an employee under his supervision - has gone viral in Singapore, sparking outrage and calls for the authorities to step in.