SINGAPORE – Housekeepers and porters have been added to a list of seven jobs in services and manufacturing for which employers will soon be allowed to hire work permit holders from a wider range of locations.
The seven other jobs on the Non-Traditional Sources (NTS) Occupation List, which was unveiled during the 2022 Budget debate, include welders, cooks in Indian restaurants and some food processing workers.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Tuesday that the move was decided in consultation with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
Visitor arrivals from January to July hit 7.7 million, versus 2.23 million over the same period in 2022, based on STB figures.
The additions were welcomed by the Singapore Hotel Association, with executive director Margaret Heng noting that hotels are increasingly struggling to recruit for both these roles, potentially affecting operations in a hospitality industry critical to the country’s reputation as a preferred travel destination.
Typically, employers in the services and manufacturing sectors hire work permit holders only from China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and Taiwan.
However, employers must pay these workers at least $2,000 a month in fixed wages.
These workers must account for 8 per cent or lower of the employer’s total headcount, excluding Employment Pass holders.
Manual workers in the nine jobs can now be hired only on S Passes if they come from NTS countries, a situation the list hopes to address as part of wider efforts to raise the quality bar for S Pass holders.
Other ongoing moves to the same end include stepped increases in S Pass qualifying salaries each September from 2022 to 2025 for new applications, and from 2023 to 2026 for renewals.
“The NTS Occupation List is intended to help firms adjust to the S Pass qualifying salary and levy increases by allowing them access to NTS work permit holders for occupations with pressing manpower needs, but see low take-up by locals and are harder to automate,” MOM said.
Employers who wish to continue hiring S Pass holders for the nine jobs are allowed to do so.
Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng said in Parliament in May that in deciding which occupations to list, MOM evaluated jobs with a significant number of S Pass holders who may be affected by the upcoming changes in the S Pass framework. “We also assessed the number of locals in these occupations as well as local employment outcomes,” he had said.
Dr Tan said the ministry would work closely with sector agencies as well as employers and the labour movement to review the list every three years, but kept the possibility of more regular reviews open.
MOM said on Tuesday: “The tight list of occupations, together with the quota and salary criterion, supports the longer-term shift to be more manpower-lean, and addresses the industries’ manpower needs while balancing local employment outcomes.”
Mr S. Mahenthiran, chief executive of Catering Solutions and honorary secretary of the Indian Restaurants Association (Singapore), said the move will help Indian restaurants here serve authentic Indian cuisine, preserving the Republic’s Indian heritage.
Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Sim Gim Guan said the list would ease employers’ manpower challenges for specific occupations amid a tighter labour market for resident workers that saw the resident unemployment rate declining from 4 per cent in June 2020 to 2.7 per cent in June 2023.
While job redesign and technology initiatives have generated positive results for some job functions, housekeepers and porters are crucial roles that are not replaceable by automation and technological solutions yet, Ms Heng told The Straits Times.
“Many countries, including our traditional (sources), are facing similar manpower challenges due to the rapid growth of their own tourism industry and hotel workforce.
“Over the years, recruitment from the traditional (sources) has become increasingly difficult, and local talents do not find these positions attractive,” she said.
Ms Heng expressed hopes that including housekeepers and porters on the list for licensed hotels would increase investment and interest in tourism, enabling the sector to meet demand while continuing to upskill and retain locals for good jobs in the industry.
Mr Sim added that employers have reported finding it challenging to recruit workers from traditional source locations, even though they have not used up their entire quota.
Noting that the ratio of staff to hotel rooms is about 0.4 in Singapore, he said the industry will need more manpower as the number of hotel rooms increases, even as the sector embarks on business transformation, job redesign and training of employees in multiple skills to be more manpower-lean.
Mr Sim said: “This is necessary to ensure that Singapore remains attractive as a destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, and tourists.”