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No mid-year bonus for civil servants for first time since 2009; year-end bonus still up in the air

THERE will be no mid-year bonus for civil servants this year - for the first time since the global financial crisis - and senior public officers will also take another pay cut.

The decision was taken "in view of the unprecedented economic crisis brought about by Covid-19", the Public Service Division (PSD) said in a statement on Thursday.

Higher-level public officers will take a one-time pay cut of either half a month or a full month, depending on their seniority - on top of an earlier half-month cut announced in February 2020.

But the government will look into a year-end bonus, especially for lower-wage workers, "if the economic situation is better" by then, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told public officers in a letter that was released to the press.

"We will also recognise your significant contributions through performance bonus," added Mr Chan, who is also minister-in-charge of the public service.

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The PSD added that the government will take into account the National Wages Council (NWC) recommendation to give special consideration to lower-wage workers when it decides on the year-end bonus.

Guidelines released by the NWC in March included calls for employers to seek the consent of unions and engage employees before cutting wages, as well as for deeper reductions for management and higher-wage employees.

The NWC asked for special consideration for lower-wage workers, especially those earning a basic monthly wage of S$1,400 and below, and those on the coronavirus front lines. Bosses were also urged to do their best to pay out annual wage supplements.

The PSD has now said that agencies "will make different efforts to appreciate and recognise the good work of officers", given their "hard work and sacrifices" during the coronavirus outbreak.

National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said in a statement that the labour movement supported the “difficult but necessary pause” to mid-year bonuses, which was undertaken in consultation with unions for the public sector.

"We are cognisant of the current testing situation where economic uncertainties, stalled business outlook and looming job losses are on most Singaporeans' minds."

She also said that the government's plan for alternative efforts to recognise public officers' work was encouraging, adding: "Similarly, we also call on private-sector companies to take the cue in appreciating and supporting their workers duly and fairly during this pandemic."

The latest move is the first time since 2009 that civil servants have had to forego their mid-year bonus. They still received a year-end bonus of 0.25 month that year, which was capped at S$750.

Last year, the civil service full-year bonus hit a decade low of 1.55 months, including the 13th-month bonus but excluding one-offs.

But the PSD has now pointed to an expected recession of between 4 per cent and 7 per cent in 2020, and rising unemployment and layoffs, making for "a worsening economic outlook".

Singapore recorded its largest quarterly drop in employment in the first three months of this year, with the overall unemployment rate inching up to 2.4 per cent. The economy shrank by 0.7 per cent year on year in the same period.

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