Time for me to capitulate and create a Politics category for this blog. I tried to sneak this in a while back by creating a "Government/policy" category but I might as well go the whole hog.
And for my next trick: a copy-paste of a short discussion I had on a friend's Facebook page (minor edits done for sake of flow and grammar).
Friend's post: Now Singaporeans remember, we need another 900,000 foreign workers on work permits
[a few inconsequential comments followed by...]
Person A: Guys, a huge portion of them fill the construction industry. Without them, who to build our ever increasing housing demand?
Person B: We are not talking about construction workers earning a pittance doing a service to singaporeans in jobs we will not do. the PAP has very deftly confused the issue by associating all foreign workers with labourers, cooks, and cleaners. They have been and always will be welcome. We want the bums on s-passes, also called foreign 'talent' in the 1.8k monthly income bracket stealing jobs from legitimate singaporean poly and uni grads and supressing their wages, living on a beggars salary here, then repatriating every dollar they save back to manila, delhi, and beijing.
Person C: Well said, Person B. If we need foreign talents then pls bring in TALENTS!
Murli: sigh. words like 'stealing' are bandied about as gospel truth (not just in singapore) but think about it: if a company makes someone an offer that's attractive to him and the government gives him a visa that allows him to take the job, wouldn't you expect him to take it? wouldn't you if you were in his place? surely you wouldn't think, "oh, but there are other people who want this job too." so should you blame the employee or the company or the government? yes, of course, there are other people who want the same job but surely that doesn't make the employee a thief?
if you blame the company for this situation, would you prefer that the government subsidise the company and its shareholders with our tax dollars in return for hiring a more expensive and/or less productive employee (assuming this is really the case)? i oversee several small companies as part of my job so i am fortunate to have a bit of a bird's eye view. i find that management are often unable to fill vacancies because of lack of qualified applicants.
i'd rather put the ball in the government's court ('blame' is too strong a word) for making sure this unhappy situation doesn't result in the first place. essentially comes down to training and job-readiness. note, however, that this will cost the government money, which means, indirectly, that you and i pay higher taxes. that's the theory, of course. in practice, with our large budget surpluses, who knows, the government may be able to absorb increased spending on the workforce without needing to increase taxes.
but the point i want to make is that this word "stealing" is incorrect and demonises the wrong party.
also, higher input costs (if any) also usually translate to higher end-prices paid by customers. so, taxpayers could be faced with a double-whammy: pay higher taxes to subsidise companies for higher input costs while also paying higher prices for finished goods. surely not a desirable consequence?
Person C: Guess you have not read of the unscrupulous ways these so called 'talents' have made use of loop holes in the system to come over. There are so many so called agencies in China exploiting it to bring the useless bums over.
Murli: i'm sure you're right about that. i'm just questioning who the party at blame is here. i don't think it is the employee.
Person B: IMO the doomsday scenario you paint is not realistic. Employers chase after the lowest possible cost of labour because that is the profit motive. The trouble is that many useless foreign workers subsist on a far lower cost of living than is required of a typical singaporean who has committed a family and house to this country. The chinaman shares a two bedroom apartment with ten other foreigners, eats only rice and vegetables, and saves every penny possible so he can live like a king in a country which has a far lower cost of living later on. Those who buy flats, make massive amounts on 'asset enhancement' sell it off then move back home do even better. These people are transients and freeloaders. My question is this: do you believe that competition between foreign workers and singaporeans is a fair one? The answer is no, and therefore this needs to be addressed by a control in Foreign labour supply where the jobs are wanted by singaporeans. Big business is happy because labour is cheap and abundant but this is a market distortion that has resulted in an unsustainably low wage for median income owners and the massive population of foreign labour has put inflationary pressure on all goods affecting everyone, including singaporeans in the sandwiched class who have also had the pleasure of seeing their wages stagnate. This needs to be fixed.
Murli: that's a moral not an economic argument (nothing wrong with that of course), which is generally seen in less clear-cut terms by people, so you and i might agree on a certain moral principle, while someone else might not. some of my friends deliberately buy certain higher priced products, which they know are made by cooperatives or employee-owned firms or by companies that don't employ child labour or by companies that do employ certain disadvantaged classes of society, etc. not everyone is willing to do that, which is what i mean by moral vs economic.
but if we all agree that the playing field is not level as a moral principle, sure, we could take various steps such as for example, restricting the number of visas given out for certain industries, training locals better, etc. one thing that i do know is that foreign workers generally pay higher income taxes than locals who earn the same salary (who may actually pay zero tax). so that is one way in which foreigners are worse off than locals. i'm not saying that that equalises the field because i've no idea but it is something to keep in mind. one could even consider increasing the tax levy on foreigners if that helps level the playing field and re-invest those tax dollars in upgrading locals' skills (but not free money to be given away). beware of unintended consequences though... of which the current situation you are highlighting could itself be one example :)