“Singapore will find it difficult to recruit foreign construction workers even from newer markets like Sri Lanka and the Philippines if it does not match salaries that employers elsewhere are offering,” reported the Straits Times on 3 Jan 2013. The newspaper was aggregating the reactions of agents, employers and migrant rights activists to news that Singapore employers are stepping up recruitment of workers from these two countries to cope with the construction boom here.

Earlier, it had been reported that the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) was helping to set up test centres in these two places to screen and train potential workers.

But countries in the Middle East and Cyprus, which have been employing Sri Lankan and Filipino construction workers for several years now, pay them more than S$1,000 a month. This is above the pay that construction workers from India and Bangladesh, get “as low as $700 a month,” (Straits Times) when working here.

The newspaper quoted Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K. Jayaprema as saying that the salaries of construction workers here have stagnated in the past decade. This situation, she explained, was because employers feel that “the workers are still earning more here than what they earn at home.”

Any disadvantage that workers in Singapore suffer relates to the training courses they must undertake. Jayaprema pointed out that construction workers who want to work here have to spend $1,000 to $2,000 on courses, whereas they save on this money when they go to places like the Middle East, which do not have such requirements. She said, “Workers see this as a cost in coming here and they want to recoup the cost with good salaries.”

Also, Chinese and Indian nationals who used to come to Singapore in droves in the 1990s are now staying away because of better job prospects back home. Agents said Indian construction workers, for example, can earn about $600 working at home, which is not far from the $700 they fetch in Singapore. Chinese construction workers can earn close to $1,000 at home which is near the average of $1,200 they draw here.

The newspaper said Singapore has 277,600 construction workers.