Parliament: Boosting workers' skills, business environment can help overcome risks from rise in remote working, says Zaqy Mohamad

SINGAPORE – The way to address the potential threat of companies moving to lower-cost places, as remote working soars in popularity, is to ensure that Singapore remains the preferred choice for doing business, and to equip Singaporeans with the right skills, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad on Wednesday (Oct 14).

At the same time, the Government is tracking closely the changes in workplace practices arising from remote working to assess the need for policy intervention, he added.

Increasingly, even jobs which traditionally require a physical presence may be performed remotely, he noted.

“For example, port cranes could only be operated from their cabins in the past, but can now be automated and controlled from a remote centre.”

Mr Zaqy made the point in Parliament when replying to Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), who had asked how Singapore can stay competitive and whether its labour laws need to be updated to tackle the growing trend.

Similar concerns had been raised in the House in August, when Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) raised the possibility of remote working reducing the need for multinational companies to hire locals, and labour MP Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) questioning the relevance of the work pass system when employees might not need to be physically present.

But Mr Zaqy said on Wednesday that the full impact of remote working is “not fully clear”, pointing out that some employers continue to prefer bringing workers together physically, and the need for face-to-to-face interactions with clients and business partners.

“As with digital technologies, which have mostly been adopted to augment rather than replace the work performed by people, it is likely that remote working technology supplements rather than fully replaces physical interactions at the workplace,” he added.


Mr Zaqy, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence, drew parallels with previous shifts involving garment manufacturing and call-centre operations.

As they moved abroad, Singapore responded by growing new biomedical sciences clusters and expanding the services sector, while businesses that remained here moved up the value chain, he said.

“With limited land and manpower, we no longer compete on cost alone but on productivity, connectivity and ability to support business innovation.”

To retain its competitive edge, Singapore also has to ensure that it remains the preferred location for trade and investment, said Mr Zaqy, highlighting the emerging growth areas of additive manufacturing and fintech.

“Second, we must sustain efforts to help Singaporeans build skills relevant to the global talent marketplace. This is why we started the SkillsFuture movement and complemented it with a range of career conversion programmes. They have helped Singaporeans take up new jobs in growth areas.”

As for updating the labour laws, he said this was an ongoing process that incorporates feedback from tripartite partners, including unions and employers.

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