Sunday 30 June 2013

'Increase pay in social service field'

Tharman says competitive salaries needed in order to strengthen the profession
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has strongly urged the social service sector to do more to raise salaries for its professionals.

This is an "area which needs improving if we are to develop a strong social service profession", he said yesterday at the official opening of the Social Service Institute (SSI).

"The sector must pay competitive wages. Today, salary levels of various social service professionals lag that of their peers in other sectors."

According to a salary survey conducted by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) between October and December last year, more than 85 per cent of government-funded voluntary welfare organisations have increased wages by a median of 8 per cent.

A social worker fresh out of university is now paid about $2,760 a month. Figures from the Graduate Employment Survey by several universities here showed that the median pay for all new graduates last year was $3,050.

"We must keep up this practice of paying staff competitively," said Mr Tharman, who was the guest of honour at yesterday's event at the SSI's new premises in TripleOne Somerset.

The SSI, previously known as the Social Service Training Institute (SSTI), will provide training courses and programmes for those in the sector.

It will have new facilities including a career centre for those interested to work in the social services.

Increasing wages to attract more to the sector is key given the manpower crunch facing the industry.

Currently, there are 1,400 registered social workers and social service practitioners, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development. There is an estimated annual shortfall of about 150 social workers.

"The social service profession is... at the core of our collective effort to build a better Singapore," said Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister. "We must groom a larger pool of committed, qualified and skilled social service professionals."

While organisations agreed that competitive wages are important, they also said that some may be reluctant to pay staff more as they could use the money for beneficiaries instead.

Non-profit youth organisation Heartware Network founder Raymond Huang said: "We need to pay more to have better-quality staff. But we can't pay as much as the private sector. Besides, pay should not be the main criteria in this industry."

Mr Daniel Chien, chief operating officer of the family service centres under Care Corner Singapore, added: "We have to ensure that we pay competitively to attract people but the main reason why they join should be to serve and help people."

Time for a common pay scale

THE Singapore Association of Social Workers concurs with Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's call for more competitive pay for social service professionals ("'Increase pay in social service field'"; last Saturday).

We are also greatly encouraged by the support of members of the public, such as Mr Kwan Jin Yao ("Be pragmatic about social workers' pay"; Monday).

While those wishing to undertake social work as a career should not be motivated by pay, their choice of career should also not be penalised by the lack of career progression and non-competitive salaries.

Many social service agencies have a rather flat hierarchy, and career mobility tends to be restricted.

With growing social needs and the expansion of the health-care sector to meet the needs of a rapidly ageing population, many voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) struggle not only to recruit social workers, but also to retain trained staff, who often leave for better-paying jobs in other sectors. This is detrimental to assuring good-quality service to the many beneficiaries served by these agencies.

There are 1,400 accredited social workers and social service practitioners in Singapore.

The objective of accreditation is to ensure quality in the standard of service provided by social service professionals to the public.

To encourage these professionals to be accredited, we propose that there be a clear distinction in the remuneration packages of accredited and non-accredited social workers.

Also, there is a lack of consistency in wages in the social service sector, as some VWOs operate programmes that receive funding from different government agencies such as the Health Ministry, Social and Family Development Ministry and Agency for Integrated Care, as well as programmes funded by public donations.

This often imposes a strain on the resources of these organisations as they seek to maintain parity among social service practitioners doing the same type of work within the agency, but where funding norms differ among centres operated by the same agency.

We would like to work with the various ministries and the National Council of Social Service to conduct a comprehensive pay review, which can restore parity among agencies receiving funding from different sources, so that a competitive remuneration package can be developed for all social service practitioners.

It is high time for a common salary scale for social service practitioners, regardless of whether they work in a hospital, a family service centre or a VWO.

Linda Auyong (Ms)
Singapore Association of Social Workers
ST Forum, 4 Jul 2013

Be pragmatic about social workers' pay

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's call for pay in the social service field to be made more competitive ("Increase pay in social service field"; last Saturday) echoes a perspective made by Mr Chan Chun Sing, then Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, last year.

The affirmation given by policymakers to the social service profession is heartening. The current pool of registered social workers and social service practitioners is 1,400-strong.

With a growing demand for their knowledge and expertise, and while the administration's commitment to continuous training and development has been largely fulfilled, it would be interesting to see if the number of employees in the organisations has kept pace.

Some might say that social workers should not be motivated by the amounts of money they receive and should therefore not make comparisons with their contemporaries within the industry or with their counterparts from other sectors.

Indeed, two representatives from non-profit organisations said that "pay should not be the main criteria in this industry" and "the main reason why (social workers) join should be to serve and help people".

Be that as it may, the heads of these organisations and service centres should allow for a degree of pragmatism as well.

It would be detrimental if present remuneration is perceived as a deterrent, thereby preventing an inflow of capable, intelligent, young social workers.

But more specific details are needed to define what "competitive" pay means for its conception and determination.

Would it be pegged against the civil service and teaching profession? Currently, the National Council of Social Service publicly lists a table detailing pay scales and compensation for varying occupations and appointments in the voluntary welfare organisations following the guidelines and deliberations of the National Wages Council.

Are the wages consistent across the non-profits? Do - and should - the organisations have the liberty to design more lucrative remuneration arrangements?

More importantly, as the consultation process proceeds, views should be solicited - not just from the organisation's supervisors and directors - but from aspiring and present social workers.

The former would give the Government a good sense of the expectations and aspirations, while the latter would provide on-the-ground insights of the current situation.

Kwan Jin Yao
ST Forum, 1 Jul 2013

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