With the Budget 2010 out, there has been a lot of talk about increasing productivity in Singapore. The main topic of PAP MPs has been how to make the Singaporean worker work harder, faster and better.
In theory the idea is good, however I have my doubts. The main reason for my doubts is because of the 200-pound gorilla in the room none of the PAP MPs has mentioned; why would Singapore employers hired these Singaporean workers who work harder, faster and better?
People who know me know my views on this. Personally, I don’t believe in the Singaporean government policy of getting Singaporeans workers to retrain and upgrade their skills. My reason is simple; there’s no reason for Singapore employers to hire these Singaporeans when they can just hire cheap foreign labor.
PAP MP Ong Ah Heng gave an example in Parliament recently about how after a single complaint from his residents, he fired all the old local cleaners in his precinct and hired young foreign workers. He used this as an example of how without foreign workers, productivity in Singapore will be worse.
However unlike most other countries, Singapore is unusual as foreign workers are in all levels of working life here. In other countries, foreign workers are accepted in low-paying jobs at the bottom of the job market or in very high-paying jobs at the very top of the job market.
That’s not the case in Singapore.
In Singapore, you are find foreign customer officers, foreign event organizers, foreign office workers; basically foreign workers in Singapore do not take jobs which are shunned by Singaporeans or take jobs which Singaporeans are unable to do. They take jobs in Singapore in all levels because employers in Singapore find them cheaper to employ. Employers in Singapore don’t hire foreign workers because they are more productive or because Singapore workers are lazy. They hire foreign worker because they are cheap!
In fact, the importing and hiring of cheap foreign workers is what cause the fall in productivity in Singapore. I got personal experience in this because I work with a few Filipinos. All of them speak English but one of them speaks with such a thick accent, sometimes even I have a hard time understanding him. So sometimes when clients call in, they cannot understand him and asked for a Singaporean speaker instead. Is that productive?
This is hardly unusual in Singapore because sometimes clients called in, I pick up the phone and I can’t understand them because they are from China or the Philippines. So just imagine when a foreign worker from China (who speaks little English) called in and get to speak to one of my Filipino co-worker (who speaks English with a foreign accent).
Is it any wonder why there is a fall in productivity in Singapore? I believed MP Ong must never have picked up a phone and spoke to an employee who is from a foreign country. So say all you want about increasing productivity, but none of it will matter because Singapore employers would not care. Why should they when they can just feed their bottom-line by hiring cheap foreign workers?
That’s why I think all the talk of productivity will stay just that; talk.