Wages rose faster than productivity in recent years: Koh Poh Koon

Real wages in Singapore rose faster than productivity in recent years, even though real wage growth should track productivity growth over the long run to be sustainable.

The observation was made by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon yesterday, in reply to a question on productivity and wage gains from Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC). From 2011 to last year, real wages for resident workers rose by 1.9 per cent a year, while productivity grew by only 1.1 per cent a year over the same period.

Said Dr Koh: "If real wage growth outstrips productivity growth for an extended period, businesses will be at risk of losing their competitiveness and potentially be forced to scale back or close their operations." But there were differences across sectors, he noted.

In domestically-oriented sectors such as construction and other service industries, real wages rose faster than productivity between 2011 and last year. This was in part due to a tight labour market which had pushed up wages, as well as weak or negative productivity growth in these sectors.

In comparison, externally-oriented sectors generally saw positive productivity growth, which supported real wage growth.

In sectors such as manufacturing, wholesale trade, and finance and insurance, real wages rose in tandem with productivity on the back of their relatively strong productivity performance. But in other sectors such as transportation and storage and accommodation, real wages grew more than productivity.

  • 1.9%

    Percentage which real wages for resident workers rose by in a year, from 2011 to last year.

    1.1%

    Percentage which productivity grew by in a year, over the same period.

Said Dr Koh: "It is crucial that we press on with our productivity drive in order to maintain our competitiveness globally, while enabling continued improvement of Singaporeans' wages and living standards."

The Government helps companies to boost their productivity through schemes, which have shown "some early signs of success", he added. For instance, companies that used Enterprise Singapore's Capability Development Grant between 2005 and 2012 experienced a 9.3 per cent increase in revenue on average over time.

Firms that made use of the SMEs Go Digital programme to automate business functions between 2010 and 2013 had a 3.1 per cent average increase in revenue over time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'Wages rose faster than productivity in recent years: Koh Poh Koon'. Print Edition | Subscribe