Ho Kwon Ping on Singapore’s immigration and labour policies

“Ho noted that in Australia, a builder gets a salary several times the salary of a construction worker in Singapore, although both countries have about the same per capita income.

“We’ve had construction development experience in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and so on. When we built our hotel in New Zealand we were shocked because the number of workers we engaged there was about 10 percent of what we would get in Thailand — because they are well trained,” he said.

“We haven’t bitten the bullet here. We are still addicted to cheap foreign labour in industries like construction,” Ho pointed out.”

“Our low-skilled workers are at a disadvantage today because salaries are quite low with the influx of foreign workers, so I think we need to ratchet that up a bit,” he added.

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Regarding the ‘Singaporeans-first’ policies unveiled in housing and education, he noted that the PM has had to tread a very thin line on the “explosive” issue of foreigners, which many political leaders around the world have to grapple with.

“Any serious person will tell you that the advanced economies are not going to be able to grow or be able to get the talent they need if they are going to listen to the purely populist notion of protecting your people only,” he said.

“On the other hand, you have to be aware of populist sentiments and make people feel their concerns are being addressed,” he pointed out.

He agreed that issues such as overcrowding on buses and trains need to be tackled and corresponding policies rectified.

Nevertheless, Ho, who is also chairman of Singapore Management University, the country’s third national university, warned that it is “very necessary for Singaporeans not to be xenophobic”.

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