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Tuesday January 23rd 2018

Second-year undergraduate on internship laments about foreign worker policy

Dear Gilbert,

I thought I’d share something after I read an article about this polytechnic student facing a bleak situation at work owing to his two Filipino colleagues’ work ethics.

At present, I am a second-year undergraduate doing an internship which I find both enriching and fulfilling but have nevertheless found the labour importation and employer attitudes towards them to be alarming.

My company is mid-sized and in the corporate advisory field; Interns whose stint extend a certain period have a director-mentor with whom they discuss their progress and turn to for any work problems.

I was fortunate to have a good mentor with whom has shared with me the nature of corporate advisory work beyond what was covered in school.

I feel this is what the essence of an internship should be given that my degree is multidisciplinary and it helps me to decide on the direction of my future career.

Over lunch some time back, my mentor and I were discussing the cuts to the dependency ratio ceiling which he found to be “disturbing”, much to my surprise since he has two children studying locally who are both a few years younger than I am.

The reasons cited was that what the firm did what was considered specialised and that fresh hires and mid-level hires who were foreigners were more willing to learn and did not carry the “know it all” attitude which was what he preferred.

More importantly, cash flows and erratic workloads could be an issue at times and these foreigners have less demands on pay and were willing to work harder when the need comes.

This had me thinking that we Singaporeans are essentially living in a vicious cycle.

Ceteris paribus, employers would already prefer an importation of labour regardless of wage because of a perceived “better” attitude and other intangibles.

When concerns over wage and the ability to bill hours come in, then employers would make a clear cut choice to the obvious determinants of Singaporeans – Singaporeans face a higher cost of living and depressed wages because of a combination of these foreigners and poor policy planning.

Property prices have seen an exponential jump since 2005 owing to an import of about 200,000 workers per year while only building an average of approximately 10,000 units of housing a year; it simply becomes intuitive as to where the direction of prices would head.

As an insult to Singaporeans, one particular revered opposition member of parliament did question a particular Senior Minister of State as to this phenomenon but the response given was essentially that there was a surplus stock. Despite this miscalculations, that Senior Minister of State was eventually promoted to full minister.

One of the oft cited reasons for importing foreigners is that they need to fill the shortage of labour and that these foreign workers lower costs for businesses thereby resulting in their ability to survive and thus provide jobs for local workers.

This is clearly ironic given that their presence is at the expense of reducing Singaporeans ability to afford and increase in their standard of living.

Many younger generation persons like myself are putting off having children because of affordability issues.

The bigger issue is that this then repeats itself as a vicious cycle since there are no locals to fill jobs.

Having shared my side of the story, I’m just curious as to what would you take be on the overall phenomenon?

Warm Regards,



 Dear X

Thanks for your mail.

The foreign influx has truly created alot of havoc for the working population here benefitting only the employers and foreign workers.

With all sorts of quota and work permits, foreigners can easily come in to work for two years.

They will then try to apply for permanent residency in the hope of staying on long term here.

Given the dismal  state of economic affairs in most third world countries around us, Singapore represents a heavenly place to reside and live for the long term.

Foreigners  are also more willing to work harder and put up with much work exploitation so that they can curve out a future for themselves in a first world environment.

For every job at PMET level that is offered to a foreigner, it is one job less for local Singaporeans.

I would encourage our government to adopt a Employ Singaporeans First mentality so that we can have our basic needs met.

Right now, local PMETs have to compete with foreigners out in the job  market and sometimes the low wages they are willing to accept have deprive many locals from gaining employment.

I am not against foreign workers but the policy has to be tweaked to accommodate employment opportunities for  local Singaporeans first.

I hope  to publish your mail on my blog if possible.

Thanks also for writing in to us.

We are here for you.

Gilbert Goh


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8 Responses to “Second-year undergraduate on internship laments about foreign worker policy”

  1. Anon says:

    I have been working with foreigners in S’pore for over 10 years. They cover the whole range, from ang mohs to asians, from work permit to P1 employment pass.

    And I can tell you that this “better work attitude” perception is BULLSHIT. The foreigners attitude are exactly the same as Sinkies. They all work for money, that it. PERIOD.

    This is more obvious with the ang mohs and those from 1st world countries. They won’t work for peanuts, unless you’re referring to the $600K variety. And even then, those from 1st world countries will not sacrifice their 5-day work week, 40-hours a week limit. Unless you’re willing to pay them 10X what they can get back home. This isn’t going to happen for those top-pay expats. Their salaries are usually about 1.5X to 2.5X max what they get back home. Not enough to accept shit from employers.

    For those lower-level foreigners (including lower-level employment pass from $3K to $4.5K per month), they APPEAR to be more hardworking and more willing to accept shit conditions, simply becoz they are earning 6X to 10X what they can get back home!!

    HOWEVER, I am seeing more & more low-level foreigners are demanding higher pay in recent years. These are the Q1 employment pass, S-pass and higher-skilled work permit. I.E. they range from technicians to degree-holder executives. And they give attitude, slack, do only the bare minimum if they don’t get good salary increase or bonuses.

    Many of them have told me that salaries back in their home countries are increasing at a very fast pace, sometimes even 50% pay increment in 1 year! So it becomes less & less beneficial for them to work at existing salary here. From 10X more to only 6X more, from 6X more to now only 3X more. Those foreigners whose SG salaries are now only 3X more than back home are the ones showing the most bad attitudes and unhappiness at work.

    This is why S’pore govt has recently announced going to more countries to get foreign workers, as less & less from china & the big cities in india want to come to s’pore. Soon you will find more africans coming in. The authorities will need to designate a new area in s’pore as little africa soon.

  2. Anon says:

    Sinkies who are enjoying the good life and benefiting from existing policies of course don’t want the status quo to change. This is even if they have children and know that the policies are bad for Sinkies in general. Why? Coz they think they are special, smarter & better than the rest. They really think their children will also be elites and earn even more than them.

    I have plenty of rich relatives (staying in landed, earning over $20K a month etc) and the above is EXACTLY their attitude and thinking.

  3. Really? says:

    Singapore a heavenly place for foreigners from 3rd world countries to live long term? Really, Gilbert? What’s so heavenly about it? The cost of livng is stinkingly expensive yet salaries are only slightly better than third world countries on a PPP basis. FYI, my company is paying $3 an hour for casual labourers at our Singapore branch office. Heavenly indeed. What a joke.

  4. Hard Truth says:

    Foreigners treat s’pore as merely place to earn money, nothing else. Most 3rd world foreigners have to live a much more frugal & simple life in s’pore than back home, becoz of the high cost of living. But most are still able to save plenty — 1 year savings in s’pore is equal to entire 5 years salary back in 3rd world countries. I’m referring to foreigners earning between $1K to $3K per month.

    If you offer Sinkies 10X their current salary to do their same job, many will jump at the offer, even though the criteria is that they have to live life like a construction worker, sleep in dormitories, eat instant noodles, eat soya sauce rice, etc. Suffer 2 years better than slogging for 20 years right?

    As for those $3/hr workers, they are mostly illiterate farmers from 3rd world countries who have been conned here. Many have incurred large debts to come here and are stuck. If s’pore operates under US law or UK law or Australia law, the companies will be abetting human trafficking and slave labour.

  5. Reto says:

    And the countries around us are fast developing with mammoth investments in infrastructure and cheaper labor. Soon mncs will divert their attention to these markets and left Singapore due to low domestic consumption and ever increasing cost of doing business. These economies with sizeable population will reap the rewards in future to come

    • jj@39 says:

      I think the PAP is running out of ideas how to maintain growth by reducing importing cheap foreign labours.

      They kept on importing cheap foreign labours into S’pore to maintain growth. They refused to have minimum wage so that employers can profiteering more money.

  6. aquamarine says:

    Do u think Foreigner like Ang Mo. They love Singapore. Well they hate Singapore when they realise the cost of living is so high. I have known of someone who married Ang Mo. Guess what they stay in JB LANDED PROPERTY due to lower cost of living. Is the Ang Mo smart? I can assure u, he is a smooth talker. In fact, he is not even a graduate back home. He ventures into Singapore bcos we like to treat Ang Mo like God. That’s a old Colony mentality. The best joke was even the MOE engage him for some speaking engagement with the local student.

    Forward looking, Singapore will be a hard place for its own people bcos our policy was not set to protect but to exploit. Perhaps as LKY has mentioned in Hard Truths, “Singapore may not be around in 50 or 100 years time.”

  7. Anon says:

    Many senior PAPies already know s’pore will not be around in 50+ years time. Why do you think they keep on insisting to run s’pore like a company?? Does any company continue to pay fat salary to you if you become sick or disabled or old? Does a company pay you equal to what you earn for the company, or they pay you much lower than what you earn for them? No, you die your biz.

    Worse of all, s’pore is not even being run like a proper MNC with good salaries & benefits for all staff, and good corporate governance. Instead s’pore is being run like a family-run SME. If you’re related to the family, you get good salary & perks just for showing face at work. The whole setup of s’pore is basically to squeeze as much money for the rulers and their family while it is possible.

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