Sunday 9 December 2012

Local demand for manpower in 2013 to remain buoyant: MOM

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Dec 2012

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia that he is confident local demand for workers will continue to be buoyant for certain sectors.

The unemployment rate for Singaporeans currently stands at about 3 per cent.

Mr Tan said a low unemployment situation meant that the job market was potentially tight.

"It could have an upward pressure on wages. That would be helpful from a wage increment standpoint. What it also means is that as people get out of jobs for whatever reasons, there are jobs available," he said.

With the tight labour market in Singapore and also the tightening rules on the hiring of foreign workers, the Manpower Ministry said that there has been encouraging trends in getting more older workers to be hired, as well as encouraging more women to go back to work.

The ministry said it believes this trend will continue in 2013 and it encourages more companies to have a mindset change in hiring older workers.

"But this needs to move ahead not just from legislation or special employment credit but from a cultural change in mindset so that employers and companies can re-adjust the way they do things, so that they look at more part-time work, bringing back older works, stay at home women," said the minister.

Mr Tan also said that more should be done to uplift the lives of low wage workers, and that Workfare is a sensible programme.

He added that Workfare is currently being reviewed with hopes of strengthening it next year.

"The consultation is ongoing. Obviously people are looking at whether we should have more cash component viz a viz CPF component, whether in terms of the ceiling, you should adjust the wage levels for different age groups eligible for Workfare," said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan added that Workfare is the preferred solution to raise wages, not setting a minimum wage.

He said: "To me, it is really a question of which tool best solves the problem at hand… With low wage workers… their wages are not moving as fast as we would like it to.

"Minimum wage is one solution that many countries adopt... But we feel that Workfare is the way to go forward along with the other measures we have in place."

Mr Tan cautioned that if there was no Workfare, Singaporeans would not see the supplements coming in to support low wage workers resulting in low wage workers being worse off.

Tackle labour crunch with productivity push: Tharman
DPM warns that Singapore faces a 'permanently tight labour market'
By Alvin Foo, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2012

SINGAPORE can sustain business growth and excel even when labour supply is tight by boosting productivity, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

This can be achieved by transforming business operations and honing capabilities, he added.

"We face a permanently tight labour market. By developing deep capabilities and transforming business operations to raise productivity, we can sustain business growth and do well in this environment," he said.

Mr Tharman was speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony for YCH Group's $200 million state-of-the-art supply chain facility in Jurong West.

Separately, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said the tight labour market could benefit workers.

"It could put upward pressure on wages. That would be helpful from a wage increment standpoint. What it also means is that as people leave jobs for whatever reason, there are jobs available," he told Channel NewsAsia.

He added that a review of Workfare, the Government's wage supplement programme, was the best way to help improve the lot of low-wage workers.

Singapore's jobless rate stood at 1.9 per cent in the third quarter of this year, one of the lowest in the world.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been facing an acute manpower crunch in recent times as the Government's tighter foreign worker policy bites hard.

Many SMEs are scaling down operations, considering relocating or even shutting down in response to these challenges.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said the tight labour market is definitely here to stay, even with sluggish growth, unless Singapore gets hit by a deep recession, as there are still business opportunities to be tapped in many areas here.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said: "Firms that drive productivity improvements through innovation and automation and by enabling their workers to raise their skills will not only do good for themselves, but also help Singapore to make a critical transition to a productivity-driven economy."

He noted that the logistics and transportation sector, which has more than 200,000 workers, faces a "serious shortage of labour, with many firms finding it difficult to attract Singaporeans".

In the logistics industry, average productivity and pay are also "some distance below" levels seen in the leading developed nations, he added.

However, there is "clear scope for transformation", he said, highlighting YCH as an "enterprising firm... capable of transforming operations so as to create good jobs and retain people, stay competitive and expand its footprint abroad".

YCH offers logistics services to some of the world's largest companies, including Dell, Samsung and Unilever.

Its new 6.5ha facility, which will cover a gross floor area of 130,633 sq m, is slated to be ready in the third quarter of 2014. The facility will have a five-storey, fully ramped-up warehouse, an adjoining 45m-high automatic storage and retrieval system, and an eight-storey office building. It will enable YCH to cut the time for goods retrieval from eight minutes to three.

YCH Group chairman and chief executive Robert Yap said: "It'll be iconic to Singapore... we want to create an ecosystem for innovation and productivity to flow."

Mr Tharman noted: "His vision was to make this like a mini-Silicon Valley for logistics."

The minister also highlighted four government schemes to raise productivity in the logistics sector.

They include a self-help assessment tool for logistics SMEs to aid improvement in storage space optimisation and vehicle utilisation, and worker training programmes.

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