Singapore faces manpower shortage, yet to 'adequately replace' migrant workers who left due to COVID

According to the Ministry of Manpower website, as of December 2020, there were 1.23 million migrant workers in Singapore, down from 1.43 million a year before.
For representational purpose. (Photo | PTI)
For representational purpose. (Photo | PTI)

SINGAPOR: Singapore is witnessing manpower shortages due to COVID-related travel restrictions in the country and it has not been able to "adequately replace" migrant workers who have left the island nation over the last year, the government said on Tuesday.

Singapore depends on migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

According to the Ministry of Manpower website, as of December 2020, there were 1.23 million migrant workers in Singapore, down from 1.43 million a year before.

In a statement to the media, the manpower ministry said there have been recent calls by members of the public to close Singapore's borders "entirely" to bring down the number of imported infections.

However, "at the same time, businesses have been appealing for more workers to be allowed to enter Singapore to address manpower shortages".

The outflow of migrant workers over the last year has exceeded the inflow, as workers ended their contracts and chose to return home, it said.

"As a result of border restrictions to mitigate importation risks, we have not been able to adequately replace those who have left Singapore," the ministry said.

Since May 2, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history to Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the last 14 days have been barred from entry or transit in Singapore.

A similar ban has applied to India since April 24.

The decision was taken after a deterioration in the COVID-19 situation in India, with the infection spreading to the surrounding countries, co-chair of the COVID-19 task force Lawrence Wong had said.

The manpower ministry statement noted that the impact of not allowing any migrant workers to enter Singapore after the COVID-19 "circuit breaker" last year would have been "severe" for businesses and families.

Had this happened, there would now be: 70,000 fewer migrant workers working in the services sector, including essential services such as healthcare and cleaning; 30,000 fewer construction workers working on key infrastructure and building projects; 30,000 fewer migrant domestic workers.

The ministry pointed out that many businesses here are trying to hold on to existing workers.

"We agree it makes sense to try to retain our existing workers. Indeed, many businesses are already doing so," with firms offering workers higher retention bonuses and industry associations facilitating transfers of workers to new employers, it said.

Singapore's restrictions on the inflow of workers from higher-risk countries will "likely persist for some time, until the situation improves. This is the only way we can ensure the safe inflow of workers, while managing the risk of transmission in the community", the ministry said.

"We are mindful of the manpower crunch that our businesses will face, and the caregiving help that our families will need, as a result. "Border restrictions will impact Singaporeans' daily lives and this will be felt more keenly in the coming weeks and months," it said.

According to a report in Channel News Asia, following the tightening of border restrictions on May 2, several firms that have traditionally relied on migrant workers from India and Bangladesh were looking further afield for labour and are likely to face project delays and disruptions for the time being.

Meanwhile, stakeholders in Singapore's construction industry on Monday appealed to the government to allow foreign workers to enter the country "in a safe and controlled manner", the report said.

The Construction Industry Joint Committee said the current manpower situation may result in further delays to construction projects and could cause jobs to be lost in the industry.

It has asked the government "to adopt a balanced approach and work with industry to allow the recruitment and inflow of foreign manpower."

The authorities here acknowledged that housing projects are expected to be delayed by a year or more, as a result of tighter border measures affecting the construction sector, the report said.

As on Tuesday, Singapore reported a total of 61,651 COVID-19 infections and 31 deaths due to the disease.

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