The Jobs Credit Scheme may not be working as intended. Leong Sze Hian.

Low-wage workers better off, now everybody worse off?

Leong Sze Hian / Columnist

With the Labour market still weak, it is time to question the effectiveness of th Jobs Credit Scheme.

WHILE the Ministry of Manpower may claim that low wage workers are better off, it seems like the economy is still in the doldrums as the job market remains weak.

(Photo: Many workers and unemployed are still not helped by the government. Courtesy of Ken Yee.)

Just a week ago, on 7 June, a 72-page report “Significant progress for low wage workers since 2006” was released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Now, the MOM’s Labour Market First Quarter 2008 report, which is just released, may give us some indications as to the effectiveness of the Jobs Credit Scheme.

Labour market not recovering

The following statistics suggest that the labour market is hardly out of the woods in Singapore:

– In the first three months of 2009, nominal earnings fell by 3.7% over the same period of 2008. This is the first decline in six and a half years.

– Consequently, real earnings experienced a larger contraction in the same period at 5.8% despite the easing of inflationary pressure.

– Even as earnings fall, the labour market has not shown signs of recovery as well. It saw its first quarterly contraction in nearly six years with total employment falling by 6,200.

– The number of people re-employed fell as well, with only 51% of those retrenched in the last quarter of 2008 re-employed by March 2009, compared to 70% in Dec 2008.

– Job vacancies has fallen for the third consecutive quarter to 21,000, down 20% from December 2008 and 45% from a year ago.

– With unemployment on the rise for five consecutive quarters, the number of unemployed residents who had been looking for work for at least 25 weeks more than doubled to 16,600 in March 2009 from 7,500 a year ago. These long-term unemployed formed 0.8% of the resident labour force in March 2009, double the 0.4% a year ago.

– Labour productivity is not spared, declining over the year by 15% in the first quarter of this year, following a 12% drop in the previous quarter, reflecting a sharp fall in output.

– More workers are being laid-off temporarily or put on a short work week, from a mere 120 in the first quarter of last year to a staggering 26,530 for the first three months of this year.

Time to review measures to help workers

In view of the above statistics, I would like to suggest an urgent review of the following:

– Our drive to hire low-skilled, low-wage foreign labour as a means of growing the economy, which has contributed to declining productivity and increasing unit labour and business costs.

– The release of the much talked about second stimulus package which we have been holding back for some time now.

– While many Singaporeans are suffering from financial stress, it seems like the government has been stingy in its release of Comcare funds. In the first quarter of this year, 485 new Comcare cases were approved for financial assistance against 15,000 new Comcare applications, which is an alarming figure.