Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Singapore will magically increase productivity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Singapore state controlled newspaper the Straits Times online edition of Feb 23, 2010has the story "Foreign worker levy to rise". It talks about Singapore increasing the productivity of it's workers which by the way is one of the lowest in the world by simply increasing the foreign worker levy.

Today, each employer employing foreigners has to pay a levy called foreign worker levy which according to the government is a disincentive to employing them, while many think it is really another form of tax to increase government coffers.

The tiny island city state, which only a couple of years ago had no more than 3.5 million people, has burgeoned to its present population of nearly 5 million, having brought in nearly 2 million, which makes up 40% of its total population, of foreign cheap unskilled workers from mainly Communist Mainland China and smaller numbers form the other impoverished neighbouring countries to do their unskilled and semi skilled work. The plan of course, just as the other usual harebrained ideas of these minsters who are paid millions of dollars is, to keep wage levels lower than its neighbours to attract foreign investment.

Fearing that Singapore would no longer have any Singaporeans left with such a deluge, and since productivity keeps falling with such unskilled foreigners, the government has decided, it seems, to increase productivity by increasing the foreign worker levy.

But the question that I, a person who his no real training in economics, and with normal intelligence and common sense I hope is how will merely increasing the levy suddenly increase the productivity of workers!

For instance, by increasing productivity, does it mean that if now, there are only 4 men to sweep the floor while previously there were 8, are they now going to sweep it faster and thereby increase productivity? And is this possible, if they are already sweeping now to their fullest ability? Or is the employer now going to employ a whip to their backs to compel them to work even faster? Is this the million dollar plan of Singapore's million dollar ministers to increase the worker's productivity?

You cannot help when you go to Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew's first world city state, to see and army of workers with brooms and shovels doing work which in the west would have needed only 2. This is not just because they don't have the machines, which Singapore totally appears to lack, what is more important is they have no specialized skills; insufficient schools and insufficient students to teach and learn welding, carpentering and mechanics. So when you don't have any skilled labor as expected of a developed country, how would merely reducing the number of foreign unskilled workers help!

Of course, if I can see this nonsense, so can anybody else. Merely increasing the foreign worker levy and reducing the number of foreign workers will not magically increase anything, let alone productivity.

But in a dictatorship such as this, where the men at the top can say any nonsense they want, who is there to stop them? Certainly not Lee Kuan Yew's citizens, whom he has once called, his "digits".

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
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Blog: http://singaporedissident.blogspot.com/

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1 comment:

JamesTan said...

I think Singapore is trying to contain cost, and cost only, by importing cheap labour. It is not really looking at quality like what the Germans and Japs are good at.

Eg with cheap imported labour, Singapore is able to keep supermarkets open 24 hours. It does not matter that the staff do not understand English or even understand what the customer is looking for, eg when I for a popular asian herbal sweets popular with so-called "South East Asia" Chinese rather than Mainland Chinese.

But having unskilled labour is important to Singapore because such workers are more diligent, ask less difficult questions and more obedient. It just make life easier for "digit" Singaporeans - who use commanding voice to get things done, just as they are used to getting the same commanding voice from the top to get things done. To borrow what China learnt from Singapore "Do your own work well" I can even hear HongKong Chief Executive repeat the same words.

It is expensive to train people, esp fussy Singaporeans who jump from jobs to jobs. Rather than addressing the underlying problems of keeping staff, they decision makers choose the easy solutons.

From outside, we can see where Singapore is heading. It just make our decision to "abandon a listing ship" even more valid.