SINGAPORE: A slew of measures were announced this year aimed at emphasising the Singaporean core of the workforce. Many of these measures will take effect in 2014.
The country's manpower sector and tripartite partners face challenges as they aim to ensure that Singaporeans benefit from economic growth and that there are sufficient workers to sustain that growth.
Employers in Singapore said 2013 was a good year, with the economy doing well and unemployment remaining low.
Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: "Companies continue to experience a tight labour market, and the tight labour is exerting upwards forces on wage increases.
“Compared to last year when we came out with about five per cent wage increase, we think this year's wage increase would be slightly moderated.
"But one point I would like to point out is the lower wage earners are actually experiencing a higher percentage increase, which is a reverse of the past. This will help to narrow the wage gap."
But as the country continues to restructure its economy to meet future challenges, employers will have to deal with the continued tightening of foreign worker quotas.
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "It is beginning to bite; companies are beginning to feel the pain. For some, it could possibly mean the closing of the companies. But with all restructuring, unfortunately, that is part of the process.
"How do we help match that with the manpower that they might need. We will track strategic projects; construction is one area which needs a major change in the way they do things (because) productivity is a significant laggard.
“At the same time as we are tightening in terms of the manpower front, it impacts the construction sector.
"For example, there are important projects -- hospitals need to be built, clinics, the MRT lines (too) -- how do we balance that? It is something we watch closely, something which we work closely with industries. When we look at dealing with some of these industries and wanting to move up the productivity chain, manpower policy is just one component.”
Improving productivity levels will also be a key focus for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2014.
An inter-agency work group set up to look into the challenges will roll out its first set of recommendations in the new year, said its chairman and Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.
Mr Teo said: "What we try to do is to make the schemes more accessible, and enhance some of them so that we can be more inclusive to include SMEs, not just the larger ones but also those who have a lack of resources, the micro SMEs as well.
"We are going to outreach to more SMEs in the near future. More SME centres will be set up in the heartlands.
"It’s not just at the CDCs (Community Development Councils) level, but more importantly, we will look at the broader schemes and challenges the SMEs face -- the cost of operations, the other aspects of costs in managing that through schemes or indirect benefits or assistance.
"We also look at opening up new areas and markets for them."
The new Fair Consideration Framework is also likely to have a major impact on the manpower sector.
It requires companies which want to apply for employment passes for workers to advertise on a National Jobs Bank to hire Singaporeans first, if they qualify for the job.
Mr Tan said: “The Fair Consideration Framework will be important for a number of reasons. One, it will enable Singaporeans to be fairly considered. The jobs bank is actually going to be potentially a game changer in some ways on many fronts, because every EP (employment pass) job needs to be advertised in one portal.
"What happens is that you have a one-stop place to go and look at what's available. We have very low unemployment but not zero unemployment. Many companies are keen to employ Singaporeans but many have also indicated that seems difficult. Like all jobs market, it’s about information, how does that information flow."
Mr Lee said: "For local companies, their worry is whether the Fair Consideration Framework will slow down their speed to fill the places. So I think MOM (Ministry of Manpower) has clarified that companies can use multiple channels at the same time. So with the new requirements, we do not think it will slow down the companies' speed to fill places."
Public education on the Fair Consideration Framework will pick up in the new year, and the National Jobs Bank is due to be set up by the middle of 2014. - CNA/gn
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