Ms Thankappan Usha was paid about $2,600 a month when she re-joined Jamiyah Nursing Home in 2014 as a registered nurse after a stint in a hospital.
Since then, the 39-year-old has been promoted twice and given more responsibilities, after receiving training in such skills as handling dementia patients and controlling infection among elderly residents at the home. She earns almost $4,000 now as a nurse clinician who supervises nurses in the dementia ward and trains other colleagues.
The nursing home's director, Mr Satyaprakash Tiwari, believes that providing his staff with training opportunities and rewarding them for their skills and work performance are more sustainable ways to boost the salaries of his 140 workers. Cost constraints make it very difficult to raise their pay overnight, he added.
Manpower costs form 70 per cent of the home's operating costs, part of which are subsidised by the Government, he said. Generally, the average wages of its direct care workers are on a par with those reported in the Lien Foundation study.Their pay, Mr Tiwari said, can rise by up to 20 per cent yearly if they do well.
To keep a lid on costs, the home is investing in technology to raise productivity, he added, for example by using a hoist to move a paralysed resident. Otherwise, two workers would have to do the task.
Another measure is to get employees to multi-task. Senior care associate Sitti Nahida, 48, for instance, not only organises activities for the elderly, but also accompanies them in the minibus to and from Jamiyah for its daycare programmes.
A former legal secretary, she said such new tasks motivate her. She took a pay cut of more than $1,000 a month when she joined the long-term care sector last year. "I've been wanting to make a career switch for a long time. My work now is rewarding - and a calling for me," she said.