On Tuesday, Channelnewsasia reported a survey conducted by London-based research ECA. The survey found that Singapore is placed 43rd out of 53 countries in terms of pay rise ranking for 2009. TOC spends five minutes with financial and statistical expert, Mr Leong Sze Hian, and asks him about the survey’s results and what it means for Singapore.

Question: CNA says: “Employees in Singapore will see some of the lowest pay rises this year compared to their counterparts in other places.” Out of 53 countries surveyed, Singapore is in the bottom 10 – at number 43. Why is this so?

Our open labour and “GDP growth focus” economic policies may have contributed to this. Also, we may have overdone the call to cut wages, have shorter work weeks, compulsory leave, retrain at lower wages, etc, to save jobs – leading to perhaps even companies that may not have contemplated doing so, under similar circumstances in past downturns, to in a sense follow the herd and trend.

Question: CNA says the pay rise for Singapore will only be 2%. How many workers in Singapore will actually see this rise? Or will most Singaporeans not see any rise at all?

As I understand that the 2% pay rise may be on average wages, as has been the case typically in the past, the median wage and more so the wages of the lower-income may not rise as much as average wage rise (2%), or even decline.  In real terms, after adjusting for inflation, the number without or negative pay rise may be more.

Question: Does this result from the survey mean that the various schemes recently dished out by the government isn’t working?

The schemes are focused on saving jobs, rather than pay increase. So, the eagerly awaited unemployment data for the first quarter, may  be a better indication of the effectiveness of the various schemes.  If indeed unemployment increases a lot as well as a substantial drop in wages,  then we may need to re-evaluate our strategies in the current recession.

Question: Singapore seems to be among the hardest hit in all the recent data on the economy. Why, exactly, is this so?

Perhaps an over reliance on  exports,  not doing enough to fight inflation  by lowering costs,  allowing high growth in lower-skilled, lower-wage foreign labour,  over-focus on the GLC sector relative to SMEs, etc.

Question: While the survey only refers to pay rises, what about actual pay? How many workers have had their pay cut or will see a pay cut in 2009?

Perhaps the MOM could try to provide these statistics.  Anecdotally, many may have lost their jobs,  had wage cuts,  shorter work  weeks and compulsory leave which means a wage cut,  retraining at lower wages,  business declines for the self-employed, etc.  As the recession continues, the numbers and  extent  of the cuts may  increase. Are unemployed workers undergoing training counted as unemployed in the employment statistics?

Question: What would you recommend the government do?

Provide loans directly to SMEs instead of through the banks, stimulate spending by assuring Singaporeans that a  minimum per capita financial assistance would be given  to  those  severely affected, and provide a stipend for those undergoing retraining who need income to feed their families.

Provide more clarity and details in the employment statistics, which may help to minimise the anxiety and uncertainty that some Singaporeans may be grappling with, in the current deteriorating jobs environment.

Follow the fine example set by the Ministry of Health (MOH) for being the first agency to provide an update of the jobs (1,100 jobs) that have been taken up since the beginning of the year, and the number of vacancies (2,600 jobs) still available now.

It is also good that the WDA has given an update of the number of job seekers (35,000) who found employment through career centres at community development councils and WDA-supported programmes last year, and that more than 43,000 have already signed up for training under SPUR since its December launch.

It would be better if the WDA can give us an update on the number of jobs placed through WDA since the beginning of the year, and how many vacancies are still available, like the MOH.

Question: Is it true that employers are still hiring, as reported in the media?

Tens of thousands of jobs available have been reported in the media almost every other week since the year began.

For example, the Employment and Employability Institute (E2i) had 12,668 jobs available, more than 10,000 at the annual Careers Fair, 2,000 at the JobsDB Fair, a few thousand at various Community development Council (CDC) job fairs, etc.

Is there any double counting of jobs available?

Question: What other information do you think the government should provide to the public, in terms of employment?

In the light of the continuing economic downturn and job losses, I would like to suggest that a periodic monthly update of the jobs availability statistics be given.

I think it would be a boost to the morale of unemployed Singaporeans by letting them know the total number of jobs available, rather than just media reporting in drips and drabs.

For instance, how many of the jobs available that have been announced, have already been taken up?  How many are left and still available?  How many are new jobs available that have been added since the last announcement?

How many of the jobs are available now, versus those available in the future?

For example, how many of the 5,300 jobs in the two integrated resorts (IRs) may be paying salaries only when they open at the end of the year and next year?

What percentage of unemployed Professionals, Managers, Engineers and Technicians (PMETs) who undergo training are getting an allowance?  What percentage are retraining without any income?  What percentage have jobs waiting for them under the jobs matching scheme?  How many are on the on-the-job training scheme?

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