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Singapore salaries last year up 5.3%: MOM report

It also reveals that more companies are adopting flexible wage measures

[SINGAPORE] Salaries in the private sector grew 5.3 per cent on the back of a tight labour market and improved economic conditions last year, up from 4.2 per cent in 2012.

Taking into account lower inflation, real total wages rose by 2.9 per cent in 2013, after declining by 0.4 per cent in 2012, according to the latest report on wage practices released by the Ministry of Manpower's Research and Statistics Department.

As of December 2013, 77 per cent of private establishments with employees earning a monthly basic salary of up to $1,000 gave or intended to give wage increases to these employees in 2013, up from 60 per cent in 2012.

This included the 57 per cent that gave at least $60 built-in wage increase as recommended by the National Wages Council in 2013, up from the 28 per cent that gave at least $50 recommended in the preceding year.

Rank-and-file employees received a basic wage increase of 5.4 per cent, the highest in 16 years and up from 4.3 per cent in 2012. This was the first time since 2002 that the basic wage increase for the rank-and-file exceeded that of the non rank-and-file at 4.7 per cent.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said that the salary growth was in line with his expectations. "In terms of real wage growth, it is quite a significant improvement as inflation was actually higher in 2012. This reflects an improvement in productivity and a tighter labour market," he said.

Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters Singapore, said: "There has been an increased focus on hiring local talent, resulting in greater competition for this limited talent pool, especially in certain sectors with high demand. This drives wages up, but not for every industry."

The MOM report also revealed that there has been a general uptrend in the implementation of flexible wage measures. In December 2013, 86 per cent of private sector employees worked in establishments which had at least one of the flexible wage components recommended by the tripartite partners - employers, workers and government.

Having a narrow maximum-minimum salary ratio was the most common wage recommendation adopted at 63 per cent. This was followed by linking variable bonus to Key Performance Indicators (51 per cent) and having the Monthly Variable Component (34 per cent) in the wage structure.

Bonuses did not go up as much as basic wages in 2013 as the annual variable component in the private sector averaged 2.21 months of basic wage in 2013, up by 0.9 per cent from the 2.19 months in 2012. Consequently, the annual variable component formed a slightly higher share of total wages at 15.6 per cent in 2013, than the 15.4 per cent in 2012.

Cham Hui Fong, assistant secretary-general, National Trades Union Congress, said that the labour movement will continue to push for the Progressive Wage Model to be pervasive in all sectors.

"This will not only raise productivity and upgrade skills, our workers can also look forward to better wages and better career progression. We also call on employers to tap on the various funding schemes and programmes, so as to achieve higher productivity growth," she added.

Economists like Selena Ling, head, treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, added that the wage growth is expected to continue.

"The economic and business cycle is picking up globally, albeit at a choppy pace, and it is not unexpected that more firms are turning the corner. Real wage growth should be sustained this year, especially since inflation is subsiding. It will be very encouraging if the wage share increases over time as well," she said.