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  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 4:45pm
CommentInsight & Opinion
LEADER

Singapore model on cross-border labour worth pursuing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 3:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 3:42am

Opposition to importing foreign workers is to be expected in a city where pro-labour politicians have become increasingly vocal. As soon as the government raised the issue in the context of enhancing the workforce and population, trade unionists were up in arms. While they are understandably worried about job prospects for local workers, it does not mean the issue should not be broached. If some sectors have genuine difficulty in recruitment, importation can be the solution.

The debate was fired up by a former Singapore official, who said the city-state's success in using Malaysian workers could be replicated in Hong Kong with mainlanders. In an interview with this newspaper, Singapore's former director of population planning Paul Cheung argued that the issue should be seen as talent flow rather than labour importation. Citing the 150,000 Malaysians crossing the border to work in Singapore every day as an example, he said Hong Kong could open the door to Pearl River Delta workers over the next 30 years. That would address the city's shrinking workforce without putting pressure on housing, he said.

Suggestions of new ways to bring in foreign workers are to be welcomed. There is no reason why they cannot be fully debated in society. Their merits and drawbacks should be thoroughly examined. But as Cheung rightly advised, Hong Kong should be mindful of the local reaction and avoid opening the gate "too fast and too wide".

Although there are concerns that the city is already overrun by tens of millions of tourists, the majority of whom are mainlanders, the idea of opening the door to workers in the delta region is different. The latter just travel back and forth for work on a daily basis. They will return to their hometown every night. There will be no question of the city becoming overloaded.

Vacancies in some sectors range from 18 to 74 per cent, according to government figures. It is no longer "yes" or "no", but how to make our importation system more effective without jeopardising the interests of local workers. Now that the five-month consultation on population policy is over, we trust the government is in a better position to release more concrete details. The suggestion by Cheung should be included for discussion. It is in the city's interest to fully debate the pros and cons and decide the best way forward.

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This article is now closed to comments

petits.bijoux.35
I guess people still do not see the problem. Hong Kong has no real talent except imported shallow schmucks who brag and whine and brag and then whine some more. As the finance industry and the world's paper currencies wind down, there won't be much left in Hong Kong and Singapore except empty shells. People who have the slightest intelligence are and/or will go back to being producers of value and substance. A paradigm shift has already been underway for quite some time, least people are too vapid to notice.
JC
I am afraid your knowledge of the Singaporean economy is too vapid for words. Least you have forgotten, the manufacturing sector still makes up 20-25% of its GDP. Do your homework before you post your shallow comments
petits.bijoux.35
Manufacturing what exactly? Electronics? Please come back with a more intelligent reply when Singapore starts producing capital goods.
JC
Drugs to clear your head? Oil rigs - the biggest player in the world? Plane engines? The petrochemicals that go into a lot of capital goods? And yes of course, chips that power many digital devices today. Would you like to have more in your buffet to mull over? Or is it going to be too rich for your small mind to handle? Why don't you pay a visit to the EDB website when you have the time - which I am sure you have in loads since you are so free to post shallow comments on this website. Cheerios
petits.bijoux.35
Are they the products of Singapore, or are they in fact foreign investments that may or may not stay there depending on market conditions? And what if there were disruptions in the global supply chain, would Singapore still be able to sustain itself? This is what I was pointing at. Perhaps you may want to study your surroundings more closely before you let your emotions boil over.
JC
Well mate ,, they are made in Singapore with local and foreign participation. You may wish to know that Singaporean companies contribute about 75% to the global oil rig building industry. Keppel is the global leader that the Chinese and South Koreans are trying to beat. As for foreign companies, many have been in Singapore for decades, collaborate actively with local companies and institutions and have deepened their investments. Do you think they will simply pack up and leave after billions of investments? If so, perhaps you may wish to ask the same question of your financial industry which is dominated by foreign banks like Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered and contrast that with that of Singapore's which is headlined by local banks for a deeper reflection of the state of the HK economy. What do local companies really corner in HK?Property, telco, utlities, tourism. No different from Singapore, but there's more sectors here, as well as more international participation for a more open market. Disruptions to the global supply chain will not just affect the island nation, but Hong Kong as well as it remains a transshipment hub for southern China. Look at the floods in Bangkok or the disasters in Japan. Everyone was affected, including carmakers in the US. We are living in a global economy. To think that you can shut yourself out is foolish, especially for small and open economies like Hong Kong and Singapore. Do take time to learn more about others before you comment. Thks
petits.bijoux.35
Let's see... so you have basically acquiesced in my assessments of both Hong Kong and Singapore, haven't you? Maybe you would also agree with me that Singapore is no South Korea–because unlike Singapore–she protects her domestic industries while Singapore seeks to promote and protect foreign industries until there is practically no local industry left, is it not true? Well, the good news is: I am not here to promote colonial politics or corporate interests, I am here to let you know there IS no such thing as Hong Kong or Singapore but foreign outposts of tyranny disguised as "free-market" economics and philanthropy. You may want to examine your thought patterns and "education" to make sure they do not harm you in the end.
.
Also, some oil rigs companies in Singapore DID shut down due to unforeseen market conditions some years back. Having a longer-term memory can be proven to be beneficial for both society and on a personal level.
artdig18
On the surface it looks like a good idea ... importing labour where there is shortage. These workers will live across the border and therefore less housing is required here. A solution for both problems in HK. This is so short sighted and is a policy favouring the rich and removes the lower skilled workers' prospects for improvements in living standards. It does not allow normal market forces to adjust in the economy where one sector is declining and another sector rising and requiring more labour. HK Govt has duty to all its citizens and one of that duty must be to progressively raise minimum wage so that living standards of all workers are raised. I am all for importing new technology and techniques but never to plug a perceived hole in the rich's wallets
caractacus
This has nothing to do with a labour shortage, but is only about CHEAP labour. The HK capitalists want to create an underclass of slave wage, lower class labour without having the responsibility of treating these people as citizens.
JC
Yes. I guess HK has been brilliant taking care of its own PRs - many of whom are living in ****-holes

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