Saturday, February 6, 2010

Labor Day in Singapore: Filipinos, "Foreign Talents" and Labor Migration

Labor Day in Singapore: Filipinos, "Foreign Talents" and Labor Migration

Isang mapagpalayang araw sa lahat ng makababasa.

It has become a Labor Day tradition of national governments to announce the current unemployment rate. In my opinion, it is a clear effort to appease the labor movement and ensure the general public that the government is creating new jobs.

In the Philippines, insatiable unhappiness in the labor sector has become a perennial problem for government. With a population of around 90 million, 33.7 million of which are employed (in January 2008), and an unemployment rate of 7.4 % (go figure), celebrating Labor Day means protesting in the streets, activists staging noise barrages, hunger strikes, and mass rallies all calling for more jobs and wage hikes, and on the sideline, to ask the current president to resign. It’s not a pretty picture.

As a result, more Filipinos are crossing borders to seek greener pastures. There are more than 8 million Filipinos overseas, almost 50% of which are temporary migrant fondly called OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers. Most are in the United States, Saudi Arabia or in neighboring Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.

Singapore's strong economic growth has led to the creation of more jobs in the first quarter of 2008. Although the unemployment rate rose to 2.0% in March 2008 from 1.7% in December 2007, this is still lower than first quarter of 2007.

Filipinos are benefiting from this steady growth of Singapore, to the dismay of some Singaporeans. They see this as an outright dipping in their iron rice bowl.

Searching for a good job here in Singapore is not easy. Job openings are mostly “for Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents ONLY”. Most Filipinos traditionally get domestic help jobs, together with Indonesians. Filipino nurses are also sought after. Singapore also opened its doors to skilled technical workers and some professionals. Recently, Filipinos have been landing jobs in most sectors, services, manufacturing and construction, competing with the locals in the process. Another not so pretty picture.

Regrettably, as bad as it may seem to the common Singaporean, it is inevitable, a multi-faceted phenomenon known as overseas labor migration. This migration helped shape Philippine’s population and change the course of development at the individual, household, community, and national levels. It has made a substantial impact on the country’s economic performance.

So what’s in it for Singapore? The category of foreign talents where Filipinos fall under ensures there are enough workers nurses and technicians not readily available locally. In the long run, they would also rejuvenate and increase an ageing, declining population and even replace thousands of Singaporeans working or emigrating abroad.

Yeah right… Most Singaporeans will disagree. With the influx of Filipinos, Indonesian, Thais, Indians and even mainland Chinese, it’s too much too swallow. The open door policy that the government has actively pursued is indeed not to everyone’s liking, at least for some Singaporeans.

To be fair to Singaporeans, the government should be more strict in screening foreign talents.

As what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long has stressed, Singapore workers, and I personally believe also covers foreigners, need to continually refresh their skills to be adaptable in case the global environment changes.

photo courtesy of Señor Enrique


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