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Productivity growing too slowly: PM Lee

MR LEE: 'If productivity continues to stagnate, after a while, so will wages, which may even fall back.'


PRODUCTIVITY levels in Singapore have risen "too slowly" over the last few years, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his annual May Day Message.

This situation has arisen partly from the unsettled global economy, as well as Singapore's previous strategy to boost productivity having approached its limits, he said.

Back in 2010, the National Productivity Council had set a productivity growth target of 2 per cent to 3 per cent a year until the year 2020.

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But labour productivity growth has, in recent years, been sluggish. Figures from the Ministry of Trade and Industry indicated that productivity growth declined from 2.3 per cent in 2011 to -0.5 per cent in 2012, then to 0.3 per cent in 2013 and down again to -0.8 per cent last year.

In his message, Mr Lee noted that while wages have been rising in the current tight labour market, this cannot be sustained.

"If productivity continues to stagnate, after a while, so will wages, which may even fall back," he warned, adding that having productivity and innovation was the only sustainable way to raise wages and enhance careers.

The prime minister has already flagged the issue of weak productivity growth several times this year.

In his New Year's Day Message, he described the productivity performance as "disappointing", called on the country to do better and then pledged that the government would redouble its efforts to help companies and workers upgrade.

Then in an interview with the local media in January, he said that the ongoing productivity journey was one that needed perseverance, given that results were unlikely to come quickly.

On Thursday, Mr Lee called for a "fresh approach" to bring about an improvement in the numbers. The government is working hard to make SkillsFuture a reality, he said of the new national movement to help Singaporeans develop skills relevant to their jobs and enable them to advance in their careers.

"SkillsFuture is about adapting to new technologies and trends, seizing new opportunities, creating new value and equipping workers for the future," he said.

At this year's Budget, the government introduced the SkillsFuture Credit - a scheme which will give all Singaporeans aged 25 and above S$500 in credits from next year, to encourage them to take charge of their own learning.

On its part, the government is working with educational institutions and employers to create more pathways, develop courses and modules for on-the-job training and self-learning, and to recognise skills through certifications and qualifications.

But Mr Lee stressed that every stakeholder, including employers and workers, had to play their part for SkillsFuture to take off and succeed.

"Employers must support their workers, and where possible, grant them time-off to attend training. As workers upgrade their skills, employers should redesign and update their jobs to make good use of their new skills, and recognise and reward workers who contribute more," he said.

"Workers must also take charge of their development and careers. As a society, we must be supportive and open-minded. We should not measure people by their paper qualifications, but by their skills and contributions."

Mr Lee also reiterated the point that Singaporeans had to get used to slower growth than before because of a more mature economy and the tightening of foreign manpower growth.

Singapore's gross domestic product grew by 2.9 per cent last year; the government expects growth to come in at between 2 per cent and 4 per cent this year. "We must still be concerned with growth, because that is how we can afford to invest in health care, education and our people," he said.

He will join about 3,500 union leaders and representatives from the labour movement and tripartite partners to mark Labour Day on Friday morning at The Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista, where he will deliver the May Day Rally speech.