Businesses hope land VTL with Malaysia will let in new workers too

Nov 25, 2021

WHILE Singapore's business community welcomes the upcoming Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) across the Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia, many hope that new workers will be allowed to use the lane soon, to alleviate the labour crunch.

The Singapore Hotel Association's executive director, Margaret Heng, said: "SHA welcomes the phased reopening of the Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia because many of our hotel workforce have been separated from their families for almost two years. This gradual resumption of travel between both countries is a cause for celebration for them and their loved ones."

The VTL (Land), which will be launched on Nov 29, will initially be open only to citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders of the country they are entering.

In-principle approval holders of long-term passes - including new foreign hires - and foreign short term visitors are currently not eligible to enter Singapore. But the business community hopes this will change.

"(This) is a very important first step towards the reopening of our land crossings with Malaysia," said Lam Yi Young, chief executive officer, Singapore Business Federation.

"If new work pass holders are also able to make use of the VTL (Land), this will provide a new inflow of workers that will be most welcomed by businesses."

Ang Yuit, vice president of the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME), said that on the one hand, businesses can look at accessing labour more easily - though perhaps not in the immediate term.

On the other hand, they will need to watch their flow of staff, as Malaysian employees may want to go back home for an extended holiday.

"Many staff may not be willing to go via the air travel VTL because it's very narrow and restrictive, but with the VTL (Land) option, you may start to see more movement." That being said, the initial response will likely be "cautious", with more applicants after some stabilisation, he added.

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Sim Gim Guan noted that the pandemic has disrupted the lives of Malaysians working in Singapore. Some may have already returned to Malaysia at the start of the pandemic last year, and may now be looking to return to Singapore to work, he said.

For those who are still working in Singapore, "as there is currently a cap on the number of people that can cross the Causeway each day, employers should discuss with their Malaysian employees to schedule their return to Malaysia", said Sim.

In the medium term, sectors that are reliant on manpower from across the border, such as manufacturing, food and beverage (F&B) and retail, will benefit from the access to labour, said ASME's Ang. "We are seeing quite a nice synchronisation as we move to five-person dining and beyond," he said, referring to Singapore's easing of curbs on maximum group sizes.

SHA's Heng added: "The reopening of the causeway is a good start and when the current cap ... is increased subsequently, it will certainly help to alleviate our manpower crunch."