The figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Singapore citizens in the labour force are ‘extremely disturbing’ said the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) yesterday (23 Jan).
In a statement on their website, the party noted that one statistic stands out: the increased employment rate of Singaporean citizens over the last decade from 60% in June 2009 to 63.6% in June 2019, driven most consistently by those aged 65 and above. The MOM report said that this “reflected efforts to raise the employability of older workers.”
SDP responded that this statistic is “alarming”, pointing out that the retirement age in Singapore is 62, yet the increase in the employment rate of Singaporeans over the last decade was driven largely by citizens aged 65 and over.
SDP went on to raise several questions for the MOM:
- Why can’t our elderly retire in comfort and security? Is it because they have insufficient income for retirement and therefore must continue to work to survive?
- If so, is it because their CPF savings are withheld under the Retirement Sum Scheme?
- What are our elderly Singaporeans working as? PMETs? Cleaners? Security guards? Petrol pump attendants? Grab drivers? Will the MOM give a breakdown of these numbers?
- How old are the oldest workers? Will the MOM tell us the age groups of these workers (eg 65-75, 75-85, 85 and above)?
The party went on to say, “One would have hoped that the employment rate among Singaporeans would have been driven primarily by younger workers or, at least, those before the retirement age.”
It asked, “Is it good that an economy has an increase in the employment rate driven by those aged 65 & older over the last 10 years?”
SDP stressed that Singapore’s elderly population should be “relaxing, imparting wisdom and values to grandchildren and enjoying their twilight years”. But instead, they have been unable to retire even after working all their lives helping to build the economy.
MOM said their findings “reflected efforts to raise the employability of older workers”. On this point, SDP question if that really is the case or whether the numbers are only higher because the country’s elderly have no choice but to continue working in order to survive.
Next, MOM’s report also showed that number and share of professionals, managers, experts, and technicians (PMETs) among employed citizens have been on a steady increase from 2009 to 2019.
SDP countered that there are many accounts of PMETs who are underemployed as well as those who have been retrenched, leading them to take up jobs they are overqualified for – such as becoming Grab drivers.
The party argued, “the MOM’s figure does not capture the problem of underemployment among PMETs.”
It concluded, “A comprehensive approach to our people and the economy embracing alternative voices and listening to the people of Singapore is critical.”
MOM’s numbers of Singapore citizens in the labour force
Yesterday, the MOM released a statement sharing key finding of an occasional paper by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department.
MOM highlighted that citizens formed about 85% of the resident labour force, with the employment rate of citizens rising over the last decade by 3.6%. As mentioned above, MOM said this is driven most consistently by those 65 and older. MOM noted that the employment rate among citizens aged 15 to 24 have declined in recent years as more people in that age group are engaged in studies.
MOM also said that the share of PMETs among Singaporeans has increased from 47% in June 2009 to 56% in June 2019.
Apart from that, Singapore citizens continue to earn a higher income in the last five years, mirroring the resident trend, said MOM.
As for the unemployment rate of citizens, the paper showed that it has remained broadly stable, averaging at 3.1% from 2010 to 2019. In June 2019, it was 3.2%, only slightly higher than the rate of all residents. MOM noted that this is expected because employability is often a key consideration for granting of permanent residency.