I have read with surprise recently quite a few articles about a so-called “labour shortage” in Singapore. On Saturday PAP MP for AMK Ang Hin Kee posted on his Facebook an advert taken out in the Straits Times  by Haniffa Pte Ltd, a company from Little India claiming that their staff are 5 times busier than previously due to a “labour shortage”.
“Previously one staff could service one customer at a time, but now due to shortage of labour one staff has to service more than 5 customers at a time.”
Today on TRE I saw the report  of many SME bosses pleading with the government for help dealing with a so-called “manpower crunch”.
The puzzling thing though is, as hard as I try to understand this, I cannot find any real evidence of a “manpower crunch” in Singapore. In fact TRE has reported a couple of times in the last few months that the officially reported number of foreign workers in Singapore is still increasing, furthermore the rate of increase this year is higher than previously . The reality is that despite a lot of talk, the government has done little to reduce the inflow of foreign workers. Dependency ratios have been cut, but only by a tiny 5 percentage points, and this is not a change that will impact current employees until 2014 – so for the time being it seems to be business as usual. In light of the fact that this change will not affect existing works for two more years, it is particularly puzzling how Haniffa Pte Ltd for example can claim that their staff suddenly became five times busier when all their existing staff should be able to continue working just as they have done previously.
I write this article just to remind all Singaporeans to think carefully before believing these sorts of stories that are cropping up quite often recently. As we know the government will release a report soon on the foreign manpower needs of companies in Singapore, so the timing is suspicious. With the majority  of our economy being linked to government controlled companies, it is actually the government more than private employers that will be impacted by any changes – just look for example at SBS going all around China to hire bus drivers . There is therefore a real concern that the government will use this so-called “shortage of labour” to justify keeping things the way they are – propping up Singapore’s economy with an unsustanable inflow of foreign workers, either because they have run out of ideas on how to develop Singapore further, or because they are not brave or intelligent enough to solve the long-standing problem of low productivity in our economy.