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Singapore - Robert Walters says its best to free the labour market

17 August 2012

Robert Walters, founder and chief executive of Robert Walters thinks it's "a bit of a shame" for Singapore to tighten its rules on foreign workers according to the Business Times Singapore.

"Singapore has always been a melting pot culturally and business-wise….The government has done a fantastic job of encouraging companies to come here. If anything makes it a bit more protectionistic, it would change for the worse things Singapore has stood for in the past 15-20 years."

According to the paper, Mr Walters believes that the market should be given free play in the movement of labour. But Robert Walters' Singapore operations are not affected by the recent move to tame the inflow of foreign workers, said Andrea Ross, its managing director. "A high proportion of the talent we place with clients are locals," she says. In any case, the more stringent foreign worker policies - designed to boost Singapore's sluggish productivity growth in recent years and the earnings of low-wage workers - are targeted mostly at low-end jobs.

While the volume of hirings that it does for the financial sector has plunged, largely because of the credit squeeze, Ms Ross said that the Singapore office is "still very busy" with jobs in the procurement, engineering, property and the fast-moving consumer goods sectors. It has its hands full with assignments to recruit contract workers and mid-level employees, she added.

Mr Walters said that the recruitment business is not a good barometer of the health of the larger economy because when it comes to staff requirements, there are always "exceptions". "Even when you have a freeze in headcount, you have exceptions to it," he said. Mr Walters noted that Robert Walters' operations in Tokyo expanded tremendously during the past two decades of recession in Japan.

After 27 years in the business, Robert Walters still deals mainly with local placements. This makes sense because recruitment has not kept pace with business which has gone more global, according to Mr Walters. Political barriers may play a part, but it's also the reluctance of people to seek jobs that are further afield. 
"It's a myth that people move internationally to find jobs," Mr Walters says. "They move internationally to build careers. That's the difference."

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