A government report projects a sharp shortfall of between 250,000 in the worst case scenario to 86,800 in the so-called “low-case” scenario in eight years mainly because of the rapidly aging population.
Its findings provide what are seen as the most reliable projections of a problem whose solution has sharply divided public opinions. The urgent calls by the business sector to significantly increase the quota of imported workers is strongly resisted by various workers’ unions and labor activists.
While offering no suggestions on how to face the issue, the report noted that the shortage affects exclusively the non-skilled or semi-skilled segments of the labor market. Indeed, employers have long complained about the difficulties in finding workers to meet demand, especially in the construction, catering, cleaning and retail sectors.
But the average workers’ wages have remained static in the past decade, making workers feel that they have been denied their fair shares of the economic gains by the increasingly common practice of outsourcing which allows employers, including the government, to avoid the direct cost of workers’ benefits, such as medical insurances and pensions.
Workers have a real concern that the importation of more workers will further erode their bargaining power for better pay and improved working conditions in this hard-nose business town. For instance, it took several horrendous traffic accidents involving loss of lives before the bus monopolies, at the urging of the government, took the necessary steps to raise drivers’ pays and reduce work stress.
Employers would have a better case in arguing for increasing the worker import quota if they had show greater care for the benefits of their workers. Instead, they are fighting tooth and nail against any proposal seeking to give workers a fairer deal. Some of these proposals, such as regulating work hours, are taken for granted in most other developed economies and some not-so-developed economies.
Importing workers to meet demand is not the only way to solving the shortage problem. Improving productivity is a better way because it can help enhancing the living standard for all. To achieve that goal, you’d need a keep your workers motivated by making them feel that they have not been left behind.
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