11 October 2011

Singaporeans @ the Heart of our Workforce

11 October 2011

Our last decade has been challenging. There were 3 recessions, the last being a massive financial meltdown from which a number of countries have not fully recovered from. Economically, we managed to navigate our way as a country. But a common refrain is: "how have Singaporeans fared?"

Looking through the data, we've seen good employment rates for our citizens with 9 in 10 employed in full time jobs in 2010. They're also better qualified with 1 in 2 holding PMET jobs compared to 42% in 2001. One in 4 are now degree holders up from 14% a decade ago, or 41% if you include diploma and professional qualifications.

Median income grew by 30% nominally or 11% in real terms in the last decade, while median monthly household income from work per household member (citizen-headed households) grew by 40% nominally and 20% in real terms over the same period. Considering the backdrop of the three recessions, this is not bad at all.

In fact, there have been several recent articles which highlighted that the real incomes of US (The Economist) and European (Financial Times) households have been stagnating in the past decade.

However, I'm concerned that our growth has not been very even. In particular, I feel that the situation facing low-income Singaporeans at the 20th percentile of incomes is worrying. Real income growth is flat after accounting for inflation. Even if one considers the fact that this problem is not atypical when comparing with other countries, we should aim to do more.

Encouragingly, their incomes are boosted when government transfers and schemes like Workfare kicks in. We need to continue to do this and to go further.

Income inequality is another area of concern. Looking at our Gini coefficient, it is very similar to major cities in the world.

This is why in MOM's Addendum to the President's Address, we reiterated that we'll continue to press on with our efforts to foster inclusive growth, to help low income workers upgrade, secure good jobs and grow their incomes – this is a key pillar of our Addendum. We have a significant effort ongoing amongst our various ministries to ensure that we do help those who need it most, and to ensure that people do not fall between the cracks. We should help them upskill and to see if we can help their incomes grow.

We're undertaking a review of Workfare and encouraging companies to adopt responsible outsourcing practices. In particular we're looking at how best to boost the conditions and incomes of low wage workers.

Another area of concern is the discouraged workers – though we have low rates on this front, we're watching this closely. There were 10,000 such citizens in June 2010. While they make up 0.6% of the citizen labour force, they are usually older and less educated, with 7 in 10 of them aged 50 and above, and majority holding below secondary qualifications.

The trend we see is the proportion of mature workers in these categories – though not alarming, as we've an ageing population, we need to ensure we remain inclusive as a workforce to include mature workers. On this front – we've been stepping up our efforts to help older workers get re-employment-ready, especially with Retirement and Re-employment Act coming into force in January 2012.

In the final analysis, economic growth must translate to better outcomes for our Singaporeans. Singaporeans remain at the heart of our workforce. They are our core, and the Government will continue to focus our efforts on ensuring we raise the quality of jobs for all Singaporean workers, regardless of age, to ensure they will continue to enjoy sustained income growth in years to come.

Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin
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