SINGAPORE - Singapore's push to improve productivity has borne fruit, but the gains remain uneven and are not pervasive enough as some sectors of the economy continue to be disrupted, incoming Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Sunday (April 29).
In her inaugural May Day message before taking over from Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say on Tuesday, she urged tripartite partners - Government, employers and unions - to press on with helping businesses transform and workers adapt.
Sustaining such efforts will be necessary to keep wages growing in the medium to long term, she said, as she struck a note of cautious optimism.
Her call was met with a pledge by the labour movement to press on with helping workers acquire skills that companies need as the economy restructures.
The National Trade Unions Congress has expanded its network to cover all working people in Singapore to this end, and has also boosted its training offerings, said its leaders Mary Liew and Chan Chun Sing ahead of Tuesday's May Day celebrations.
The outlook for workers improved last year as Singapore's economy grew by 3.6 per cent, boosted by productivity growth of 4.5 per cent.
Full-time Singaporean workers saw their real median income go up by 5.3 per cent in the period, compared to 1.3 per cent the year before. This happened against a backdrop of falling unemployment and fewer retrenchments.
But while the statistics are encouraging, economists cautioned that it is still too early to tell if the labour market has turned the corner for good.
Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap noted that workforce growth, which ultimately affects the vitality of the economy, is slowing down.
Singapore's workforce shrank by 0.3 per cent in 2017, though it is is expected to grow 1 per cent to 2 per cent per year for from 2018 to 2020.
Both Mrs Teo and Dr Yap spoke of the need for the labour market to evolve, whether in training workers relevant to new industries, providing flexible work arrangements or adopting progressive hiring practices.
At the same time, the business climate must remain dynamic to encourage investments in new activities and create new jobs, said Mrs Teo.
"To progress as an economy, we must master new technologies, transform quickly and enhance our competitiveness. We must also enable Singaporeans to acquire new skills relevant to industries and businesses of the future," she added.
"To progress as a society, we must ensure that everyone - regardless of age, gender and income level - can access better jobs and opportunities to advance."