Early this week, the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) has appealed to the government to grant it better access to foreign workers, on pain on of losing its reputation as a global city with a vibrant Food & Beverage (F&B) sector. The appeal comes close on the heels of the parliamentary endorsement of the Population White Paper, which will see Singapore pushing for 1.8 million more inhabitants over the next 17 years.
The association, which represents over 300 members with approximately 1,300 restaurant outlets, welcomes the White Paper’s plan to have a larger population and consumer base. However, it stressed that that the F&B sector has been facing a severe labour shortage and is in need of some respite.
Singapore company registration specialist Rikvin recognises that businesses should be given a ear and work with the government to resolve said issues. Data from SPRING Singapore shows that the RAS, which is part of the Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) Program, jointly managed by SPRING and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, seeks to develop the republic’s F&B industry through three key strategic thrusts. They include developing capabilities, developing industry research intelligence and building a skilled and professional workforce.
On the home front, Singaporeans have valid reasons for shying away from F&B jobs. If a person is a sole breadwinner employed in the F&B industry, his or her monthly salary would barely meet increasing basic transportation, food and education costs. Many Singaporeans do not take up F&B jobs not because they are choosy but because it is not in their pragmatic interest to do so.”
However, over the course of the past two years, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has introduced lower Dependency Ratio Ceilings (DRCs) as well as higher Foreign Worker Levies (FWL) on basic-skilled workers in the services sector. The measures were introduced to wean Singapore businesses off its dependence on basic-skilled foreign workers and instead move up the value-chain through training and technology adoption. Currently, 46% of Singapore’s total population is made up of work permit holders.
The RAS contends that the republic’s high productivity endeavor against the backdrop of a tight labour market is setting off a negative chain reaction if unchecked. Higher operating costs are and will continue to be passed on to consumers and if push comes to shove, businesses may ship out. In turn, this may hurt Singapore’s competitiveness and ability to rake in Singapore corporate tax receipts. It also asserts that the F&B sector must employ foreign workers to fill in manpower gaps because many Singaporeans tend to shun F&B jobs.
To assist the industry, the RAS has proposed several measures for the government to consider. These include adjusting either the Foreign Worker quota or the levy quantum; channelling levy receipts to help businesses enhance their productivity; and tapping alternative sources of labour.
Responding to the F&B sector’s challenges, Ms. Christine Lim, General Manager of Rikvin said, “We understand the challenges faced by the F&B industry and agree that they are in need of some assistance in order to remain competitive. F&B businesses currently face two primary challenges i.e limited access to affordable foreign workers and lack of supply of workers domestically.”
“On the home front, Singaporeans have valid reasons for shying away from F&B jobs. If a person is a sole breadwinner employed in the F&B industry, his or her monthly salary would barely meet increasing basic transportation, food and education costs. Many Singaporeans do not take up F&B jobs not because they are choosy but because it is not in their pragmatic interest to do so. However, to help the F&B sector cope in the near term, they should be given access to service-oriented workers who are at least able to communicate with consumers and colleagues. When the language barrier is broken, perhaps the cultural friction between Singaporeans and foreigners would ease in time. Should the proposals be granted, the onus then is for restaurants to train and earn the loyalty of their workers,” affirmed Ms. Lim.