May 30, 2014

SINGAPORE: Singapore Delays Construction Of Roughly $1.6 Billion Infrastructure Projects To Limit Migrant Labor Demand And Assuage Simmering Anger Over Immigration.

The Wall Street Journal
written by Chun Han Wong
Friday May 30, 2014

Singapore is delaying the construction of roughly 2 billion Singapore dollars ($1.6 billion) of infrastructure projects to limit demand for migrant labor and assuage simmering anger over immigration.

The move is part of government efforts to slow Singapore’s intake of foreigners–particularly low-skilled workers widely employed in the construction sector–to a more “sustainable” level, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament on Wednesday.

“The government, we are a significant part of the construction business,” Mr. Lee said. “And we ask ourselves, which government projects need to be built, and which government projects can be deferred.”

Authorities will still go “full steam ahead” on key developments such as public housing and transportation links, “but there are other projects that can wait one or two years,” he said.

Projects to be delayed include new government offices, an extension to the Gardens by the Bay horticultural complex, and a new science center. This would reduce Singapore’s demand for construction workers by 20,000-30,000 people, Mr. Lee said.

Singapore, a tiny island city-state of 5.4 million people, has used liberal immigration policies to fuel economic growth and offset a low birthrate–its population has swelled by 34% since the turn of the millennium.

About 1.3 million foreigners work here, including nearly 1 million unskilled laborers who take up menial jobs usually shunned by citizens. Roughly 319,000 of them are construction workers.

Amid worries that an economic model premised on population growth isn’t sustainable, the government has curbed inflows of foreigners over the past three to four years, hoping to assuage voters disgruntled by stagnant low-end wages, rising living costs and strains on infrastructure–problems many citizens blame on high levels of immigration.

Social fissures have emerged between citizens and the large foreign work force. Thousands of people attended public protests against the government’s immigration policies in the past year, and anti-immigration sentiment flared after several hundred South Asian migrant workers rioted in December in Singapore’s worst outburst of public violence in more than 40 years.

Since the riot, the government has announced steps to curb the construction sector’s reliance on low-skilled migrant workers, such as imposing higher levies on their hiring.

Officials have also pledged steps to ensure that Singaporeans get a fair shot at professional positions, in response to complaints that they have been crowded out of certain sectors by foreigners.

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