Social service professionals have reason to cheer - their salaries are set to increase.
From April 1, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will raise the salary guidelines for staff working in MSF-funded programmes by up to 12 per cent from its last financial year.
This covers employees from social workers to therapists and executives, across varying seniority levels. They are not hired by MSF but by social service organisations, such as family service centres, which run programmes funded by the ministry.
"Many of those who work in the social service sector do not do it for the remuneration. They see it as a calling. Nonetheless, they deserve to receive a fair and competitive wage and have their contributions recognised," said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament yesterday.
The MSF and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) review the salary guidelines every three years to ensure that wages in the social service sector remain competitive. The sector had about 15,000 workers at the end of last year and will need about 1,000 more by next year.
NCSS will release details of the new salary guidelines later this month.
But Mr Lee hinted at what is to come: A special needs teacher with five to 10 years of experience, for instance, can expect a pay rise of about 8 per cent.
While the pay guidelines are not compulsory, charities interviewed say they follow them in order to attract and retain staff.
About three in four employees working in groups running MSF-funded programmes are paid within the recommended salary guidelines, said a ministry spokesman.
The total manpower cost funded by the MSF is projected to be about $211 million in the 2018 financial year, which starts next month. This is up from about $194 million in the 2017 financial year. The increase in cost is due to the pay rise and other factors, such as plans to expand services.
The heads of some charities told The Straits Times that the challenge is to raise more donations to match these salary increases, as not all their employees are in MSF-funded programmes.
Ms Jenny Bong, group executive director of Methodist Welfare Services, said: "You can't raise the pay of a social worker working for an MSF-funded programme, but not another worker in a programme that is not funded. We have to give pay rises across the board."