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GE2015: Tharman says Singapore must continue restructuring to sustain wage growth

In order to sustain the real income growth experienced by middle and lower income households in recent years, Singapore will need to continue its restructuring efforts, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

For their part, firms will need to continue working to boost productivity, as well as do their part by recognising the value in older Singaporeans in the workforce by training them and giving them good jobs.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday at Taman Jurong Food Centre, he highlighted that Singapore has performed "unusually" well since the global financial crisis by international standards, with median and lower income households experiencing growth in real income over 2010-2014 - unlike some of Singapore's regional peers and some developed countries.

Sustaining real income growth will be a challenge, especially when taking into account today's uncertain and sluggish economic environment, with China slowing faster than expected.

"We have to find the right balance in our economic strategies, making sure that a large segment of our businesses can survive, do well and upgrade," he pointed out.

Over-tightening foreign labour policies will "wipe out" Singapore's businesses - especially in the SME sector - while maintaining the status quo of SMEs being mired in low productivity is not an option either.

Sustaining productivity improvements will require programmes on the ground, working with business associations, unions, entrepreneurs as well as employees themselves, he underlined.

While Singapore is making progress, it has to continue on its path of restructuring in order to sustain wage growth, he said. "We also want to pay particular attention not just to the young...but our middle-aged Singaporeans, including the PMEs. They're the ones who find it really tough when they lose their jobs."

The government will do more to help this segment but employers also have to do their part in a permanently tight labour market, he stressed, adding there cannot be discrimination against older Singaporeans in the workforce.

"There's going to be no U-turn in our labour policies. Employers have to recognise the value in every middle-aged Singaporean. Recognise their value, train them up, give them good jobs and give them good career prospects."