Singaporeans are cheered by the Government’s commitment to do more for Singaporeans, as disclosed in Parliament by ministers in the last one week.
The Government has pledged to:
(1) Pay for 550 of the 800 buses and operating costs of the public transport companies so that commuters can benefit from lesser waiting time and improved service standards by public transport companies;
(2) Add another 51 km of MRT lines through the Downtown Line, North-South Line Extension and Tuas West Extension;
(3) Double the annual government healthcare expenditure from $4bn to $8bn to expand acute hospital bed capacity by 1,900 beds, community hospital bed capacity by 1,800 beds and double the capacity for long term care services in nursing homes, home based health and social care services, day care and rehab facilities;
(4) Continue to build another 25,000 public housing through BTO.
All these measures are good and to be welcome. But do you know that:
(a) 40% of the bus captains today are non-Singaporeans;
(b) More than 20% of our doctors and nurses are non-residents;
(c) Almost all of the care-givers of aged homes, community homes and workers building our MRT, HDB homes, etc are foreign workers?
We need manpower to deliver these services. But labour crunch is a real problem in Singapore. A chat with businessmen will reveal the many difficulties they have to hiring and retaining workers.
Singapore already has a low unemployment rate of about 2 per cent in 2011. According to population projections by the Government, the Singapore labour force will also start shrinking. By 2030, there will be only six citizens starting work for every 10 retirees.
Yet, the Government is slowing the intake of foreigners and cutting the proportion of foreign workers that companies can hire. This is part of the Government’s commitment to ensure that Singaporeans remain the core of our society and workforce.
There are practical and long term consequences in store for us. Whether it is more frequent buses and trains, more hospital beds, more teachers, more social workers – these are good initiatives to serve Singaporeans and make our and our lives better. But we cannot have more of everything without people to build them and manage them. With more Singaporeans not getting married, or married but delay having children or have fewer children, who will do the jobs to give us better service in public transport, health, and community care?
In short, the combination of expanded public infrastructure and spending in social spending, slowing foreigner intake and Singapore’s low fertility rate will exacerbate our tight labour market as a serious bottleneck in our economy and in our delivery of services.
I will be glad to hear your thoughts on what we can do to tackle this challenge of “People No Enough”?