A statistical analysis of the Editorial “Tharman: Firms have difficulties finding S’porean workers. Really?”

I refer to the Editorial “Tharman: Firms have difficulties finding S’porean workers. Really?” (TR Emeritus, Aug 11).

Yearbook of Statistics 2012

Let’s take a look at the Department of Statistics' Yearbook of Statistics 2012, to see if there are any indicative clues as to why firms have difficulties finding Singaporean workers, or rather why Singaporeans may be having difficulties getting firms to hire them?

Less CPF contributors?

The percentage of “CPF Contributors in Labour Force” has been declining every year, from 57.0 per cent in 2007 to 53.6 per cent in 2011.

This may mean that despite good GDP growth over the years, firms may prefer to hire foreigners because they save 17 per cent on the employer’s CPF contribution.

Foreigners no CPF

If you are an employer, would you hire a Singaporean that cost 17 per cent more than a foreigner because of the CPF contribution?

Low-wage workers

There were 294,300 Active CPF Members whose Monthly Wage Level was less than $1,000. Another 164,300 earned between $1,000 to $1,499.

If we include inactive CPF members, how many low-wage earners are there?

The Average (Mean) Monthly Nominal Earnings Per Employee By Industry was the lowest for Accomodation & Food Services, at $1,546 in 2011, against $4,334 for all workers. Administrative & Support Services was the second lowest at $2,630.

As the above are the nominal average earnings, the real median earnings must be much lower.

The above statistics may indicate that firms are paying such low wages that Singaporeans can hardly survive on.

Our unions working?

The number of unions declined from 71 in 2001 to 65 in 2009, and has remained the same till 2011.

The number of Trade Disputes increased from 121 in 2010 to 159 in 2011.

Our labour movement may not have done enough to address the plight of workers whose real median wages have hardly risen, with increasing competition from the influx of foreigners, in the last decade or so.

Seeking financial assistance at all-time high?

The number of casework and counselling at family service centres has increased to an all-time high of 26,386 in 2011, from 20,483 in 2007.

This may be an indication of increasing stress afflicting Singaporeans.

Bankruptcies rising, discharges declining?

The number of petitions/applications for bankruptcy increased from 2,202 in 2010 to 2,314 in 2011 and bankruptcy discharges declined from 2,252 to 1,391, a drop of 38 per cent.

Public Assistance

The number on Public Assistance increased marginally from 2,929 in 3,034 from 2010 to 2011.

More need HDB rental flats?

The number of 1-room HDB flats increased from 21,973 in 2010 to 24,207 in 2011. 2-room flats also increased from 30,739 to 32,319, whereas 3-room flats declined from 222,191 to 222,024.

HDB home ownership declined?

The HDB Per Cent Home Ownership declined for the first time to 94 per cent, after remaining at 95 per cent throughout from 2006 to 2010. Could this be an indication of the affordability of HDB flats?

The number of HDB flats constructed increased from 10,161 in 2010 to 17,813 in 2011. The last low was just 2,733 flats in 2006 and 3,154 in 2008.

Relentless rise of HDB prices

The HDB Resale Price Index rose from 96.3 in 2001 to 190.4 in 2011. This means that HDB prices almost doubled in the last 10 years.

In contrast, the Private Property Index increased from 117.2 to 206.2. So, generally speaking, HDB may have been a better investment with a higher capital appreciation.

The increase in the number of (new) CPF members in the year using CPF to pay for HDB flats increased by a whopping 166 per cent from 14,154 in 2010 to 37,608 in 2011.

This may indicate that a lot more people bought HDB flats in 2011.

More debt?

Mortgage Loans increased from $140 to $158 billion from 2009 to 2010, and Personal Loans from $50.3 to $53.9 billion.

The number of main and supplementary credit and charge cards increased from 6.1 to 6.9 and 1.4 to 1.5 million, respectively, from 2010 to 2011.

Total card billings rose from $30.9 to $35.2 billion, and rollover balance from $4 to $4.5 billion. This may indicate that more people are rolling-over their credit card balances.

CPF contributions exceed withdrawals?

Withdrawals of CPF by those who reached 55 years of age was 1.94 billion in 2011, against total withdrawals for all purposes of $10.4 billion, and contributions for the year at $24.7 billion.

This means that annual contributions far exceed withdrawals by a ratio of about 2.4.

More training means lower unemployment rate?

20,270 training places were taken up by workers in 2011 under the skills training and continuing academic education programmes, and 11,409 completed the programmes.

Less dentists, public dental visits?

The number of Dentists Per 10,000 Population has remained unchanged at 3 for the last 10 years, despite the increase in the population from 4.1 to 5.2 million over the same period.

The visits to public dental clinics declined from 983,792 to 863,187. This may explain the increasing complaints from the public in the newspaper forums about the difficulty of getting public dental care in recent years.

Less hawkers?

The number of licensed hawkers under the National Environment Agency (NEA) declined for the first time ever, from 14,470 in 2010 to 14,305 in 2011. Shoudn’t the number be increasing with the increasing population?

Licensed hawkers under other agencies also declined gradually from 160 in 2006 to 58 in 2011.

More Government employees

The number of Government Employees in the Public Service has been rising steadily from 109,907 in 2006 to 131.228 in 2011.

Declining newspaper circulation

Daily Newspaper Circulation declined from 396,000 in 2001 to 289,000 in 2011.

R & D declining?

Organisations Performing R&D has declined gradually from 1,049 in 2007 to 859 in 2010.

MRT passengers all-time high

The total number of MRT passengers has increased gradually from 391 to 794 million, from 2001 to 2011, and the average number of weekday passengers from 1.1 to 2.3 million.


Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.