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Singaporeans fully employed with median income rising?

By Richard Wan

It was recently reported on the Straits Times that Singapore's employment grew by only 31,800 last year, the slowest pace in 12 years [Link].

More workers lost their jobs last year, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors, which saw 5,000 and 7,800 redundancies respectively. A total of 14,400 workers were let go, up from 12,930 in 2014, continuing a steady rise since 2010, it reported.

But ST also tried to emphasize that "most of those who wanted to work were able to" as it quoted that "the overall unemployment rate remained low at 1.9 per cent last year, down from 2 per cent in 2014".

The MOM website gives more details with regard to the breakdown of the employment growth situation last year [Link]:

  • For the whole of 2015, total employment is estimated to have increased by 31,800 or 0.9%, which would be the lowest year-on-year growth since 2003.
  • Local employment increased marginally by an estimated 100 (or 0.0%) in 2015, after growing strongly by 96,000 in 2014. The flat employment growth largely reflected the exit of casual workers in Retail Trade and the slowdown in sectors such as Manufacturing (including Marine) and Real Estate Services. This was partially offset by local job growth in sectors such as Administrative and Support Services, Community, Social and Personal Services (CSP), Professional Services, as well as Financial and Insurance Services.
  • Foreign employment (excluding maids) continued to grow at a moderate pace of an estimated (22,600, or 2.0%) in 2015, slightly lower than 2014, but significantly below the levels in 2011 to 2013. The growth in foreign employment was driven by the Services sector, at both the Work Permit Holders (WPH) and Employment Pass (EP) level. The Information and Communications sector accounted for the bulk of EP holder growth, while the Construction, Transport & Storage, Food & Beverage Services as well as Administrative and Support Services sectors contributed to the bulk of the growth in Work Permit Holders.

In other words, of the total increase of 31,800 jobs in Singapore's total employment last year, foreign employment occupied almost all of it. It was near zero growth for our locals, the worst showing since the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Citizens should not cry foul

In his commentary [Link], ST correspondent Toh Yong Chuan tried to soothe Singaporeans over the latest MOM statistics.

He said, "Before citizens cry foul, it is not as if their bosses are ditching them for foreigners. More locals are not being hired for the simple reason that most of them are already holding jobs. The citizen unemployment rate was a low 3 per cent last month. The local labour pool is nearing its limits and salaries are rising in the tight labour market."

He also quoted a headhunter saying that more citizens are "securing white-collar, higher-paying jobs".

"There is no immediate danger of locals losing their jobs or their salaries plummeting. But some sectors are clearly downbeat, and one must watch out for ripple effects in the future," he said.

He did, however, acknowledge declines in local employment in 4 of the industry: retail trading, manufacturing, real estate and wholesale trading. He also acknowledged that the foreign employment growth numbers are solely determined by MOM approving the work pass applications and not by market forces.

Actually, whether citizens would cry foul or not also depends on the kind of job a local landed. So, a displaced local PMET ended by working as a taxi driver or a security guard would still be considered as employed, contributing to the "low 3 per cent" citizen unemployment rate. But do you think that PMET would be happy?

A respectable retired PMET and fellow netizen also commented, "There seems to be a big disconnect and if you are to scour the jobs advertisements each day in the Straits Times, you will surely notice that more than 95% of the job ads are for security guards, cleaners, F&B attendants, drivers (Uber & grab-a-cab), logistics assistants (pickers & packers), factory operators, etc. Gone are the days when you see a good number of job ads for PMETs."

"Either the economy is churning out the wrong classes of jobs for Singaporeans or the good jobs created all went to the foreigners.
Featured on CNA a few months back was a forum that cited a pharmaceutical MNC hiring locals for low menial jobs and placement of expats for executive and management positions," he added.

"Also a PAP labour MP said in parliament this week that Sgp must be foreign PMET lean (tighten PMET Employment Passes) and for MOM to institute dependency ratios for any further foreign PMET placements just like dependency ratios slapped on low ranking manpower on Work Permits. But why did the government screw it so deep that it's now trying to unscrew? Why is the PAP labour MP deviating in views from his former boss now MOM Minister former Sec Gen of NTUC?"

"Like the dreadful 6.9 million Population White Paper that infrastructures & healthcare capacities fell so far short of the mindless population growth that spurred several Hong Lim Park protests before the government woke up. This is a reactive government that falls far short of forward planning. The past decade was a decade of decline and it'll be tough to climb out of this ditch... It's too little too late, and the 70% is still sleeping."

Meanwhile, in the same report, MOM assured that nominal "median income (including employer CPF contributions) grew strongly for citizens in 2015". It rose by 6.5% over the year to $3,798 in June 2015, or 7.0% in real terms (contributed by CPI falling 0.5% last year).

In other words, MOM is saying that Singaporeans were fully employed with median income rising last year.

From your own work experience, do you agree with MOM’s findings (and, of course, ST) or what the retired PMET said?