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Jobs hard to find in Brunei, Singapore: Workers' paradise victim of recession

By Bhanravee Tansubhapol, Bangkok Post,
23 July 2001

Singapore and Brunei are no longer a labour paradise for Thai workers, especially in the construction area, because of the economic downturn in the past few years and stricter regulations for foreign workers.

The construction sector has shrunk, hit by recession in other world economies.

Lack of English language and other relevant skills leave Thai labourers at a comparative disadvantage in competing for work with people from the Philippines, the Thai ambassadors in Singapore and Brunei respectively, Somkiati Ariyapruchya and Thinnakorn Kannasutra, agree.

There are 62,500 Thai workers in Singapore and 14,000 in Brunei. Most of them are unskilled labourers in the construction and garment sectors.

In Brunei, garment factories still want Thai workers but only for the next four years, because the US quota expires then. Construction work will remain scarce because of the economic crisis.

At the same time, the Brunei government is training its own people to work in tourism and service industries, insteading of hiring foreigners. In the past, Brunei people preferred to be bankers or government officials, or work with oil companies, said Mr Thinnakorn.

In Singapore, the government plans to reduce the number of foreign workers by 50% over the next 10 years, especially in the construction sector, to prevent social problems. It also plans to increase the use of skilled labour.

There are 500,000 foreigners there now. The Singapore government will compel all construction workers to pass a skill examination, to get a 10-year certificate, before allowing them to work, said Ruxsak Chotchaisathit, minister-counsellor for labour at the Thai embassy.

This will help keep brokerage fees down because employers will contact Thai workers who already have the certificate and have returned to Thailand after completing two-year contracts to go back to work in Singapore again, said Mr Ruxsak.

Since April last year, Singapore employers must also pay a higher tax for employing unskilled labour (S$470 per month) than for skilled labour (S$30 per month). In addition, each employer has to place a bond of S$5,000 per employee to keep him in the job.

The Manpower Ministry will inspect each project proposed by employers. Each company will have to hire one local for every three-to-five foreign workers.

These new measures will ensure foreign workers get higher salaries while more local workers will get jobs, said Mr Somkiati.

Singapore needs cooks, architects, engineers and people skilled in information technology, Mr Ruxsak said.