Singapore workers earning more

Singapore workers earning more
Mid-point in range of incomes up 5.3% from last year to hit $2,633

By Cai Haoxiang

THE monthly salary of Singapore workers went up this year, for the second year in a row.

Their median income – the mid-point in a range – was $2,633 in June compared to $2,500 a year ago, a 5.3 per cent increase led by economic growth and a tighter labour market.

The rise is even steeper when part-time workers are taken out of the equation, according to a Manpower Ministry report yesterday on the earnings and employment of residents, including permanent residents.

It shows full-time workers’ median income to be $2,925 a month against $2,708 last year – an 8 per cent rise.

After taking into account projected inflation of about 5 per cent, their real wages rose by an estimated 2.8 per cent, said the ministry’s Singapore Workforce 2011 report.

But for all workers, including part-timers, the real wage increase was just 0.1 per cent, said labour economist Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Noting the Government’s goal to raise real median incomes by 30 per cent over 10 years, Dr Hui said it would require an average increase of 2.7 per cent a year.

‘Attention thus needs to be focused on improving the wages and work opportunities of the 194,700 part-time workers, as they are increasing in number, and half of them indicate they want to work longer hours,’ he added.

The report also disclosed for the first time median income figures that include the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions of employers.

With CPF, the income of full-timers soared to $3,250, which is $250 more every month than last year.

Explaining the new move, a ministry spokesman said employer CPF contributions form a ‘significant part of compensation… and can be used for housing and health care’.

Hence, it will publish the figures yearly to give ‘a more complete picture of residents’ income growth’, she said.

The rise in income this year builds on last year’s increase, which was a turnaround from the decline caused by the 2008-09 recession.

Last year, the strong economic recovery lifted the monthly income by 3.3 per cent, from $2,420.

This year, the increase is fuelled largely by strong employment growth, especially in the services sector, coupled with curbs on the inflow of unskilled labour and stricter conditions for employing skilled foreign workers, said economists interviewed.

‘Wages were pushed higher with the big projects like the Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa resorts needing a lot of labour, together with the tightening of foreign worker inflows like increased levies,’ said National University of Singapore economist Shandre Thangavelu.

These moves pushed the employment rate to a new high of 78 per cent for residents aged 25 to 64.

At the same time, immigration conditions were tightened, causing a decline in the number of permanent residents.

As a result, the resident labour force went up by just 1.6 per cent to 2.08 million, compared to an annual average of 2.6 per cent in the past 10 years.

On the other hand, more older residents and women were working this year.

A record 61.2 per cent of residents aged 55 to 64 were working, up from 59 per cent a year ago.

Similarly, with women aged 25 to 54, the number of employed rose to 73 per cent, from 71.7 per cent last year.

Labour leader Cham Hui Fong cheered the increases in these two groups, saying they show that efforts of unionists are paying off. Said Ms Cham, assistant secretary-general of NTUC: ‘Companies are now prepared to hire and spend time training these workers.’

Also, more government funds are available, she added, citing the Advantage scheme that helps companies redesign jobs for older workers.

Another is the Inclusive Growth Programme, which gives grants to companies to invest in high-tech equipment and redesign jobs for low-wage workers in return for raising their pay.

‘We hope these schemes will continue because we need to build up the momentum,’ said Ms Cham.