The inflow of foreign workers must remain “well-calibrated” to encourage firms to continue improving productivity, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. This was reported in Today newspaper on 18 April 2018.
“We need to maintain that calibration in order to send a very strong signal that productivity improvement is going to be key, and investing in automation, a better way of doing things, is going to be the key to our future. We should not make changes too hastily… Because if I can get workers cheaply, why should I invest in machines,” said Mr Heng in an interview with the local media at the Treasury building on Wednesday (April 18).
— Today newspaper, 18 April 2018
Further down the news story, the meaning of “calibrate”, at least in the immediate term, was made clearer:
Mr Heng stressed on Wednesday that foreign workforce growth must be moderated by boosting productivity.
However, the rest of the news story makes the meaning somewhat ambiguous. Where the above quotes, spoken in terms of wage pressure to ensure steady progress towards automation, imply a tighter immigration policy, the rest of the news story suggests a more nuanced reading.
Asked if Singapore’s stringent immigration policies warrant a rethink amid its demographic slowdown, the minister said: “Do we need to review (foreign manpower policies)? I’d say that, yes, we do, in the coming years. But I don’t want to send the wrong expectation that anytime soon, we are going to make changes. Then the pressure (to boost productivity) will be lost. We need to keep up with this thrust.”
He seems to be saying that in the short term, the tightening will continue so as to keep the pressure up, but in the longer term, some loosening may be in order to compensate for demographic aging of Singapore’s population.
The newspaper commented that
Since foreign labour policies were tightened, the Government has said, on several occasions, that there would not be a U-turn despite requests from businesses.