EXPECT the labour market to tighten further in the next six months as more companies plan to hire even when tighter foreign worker policies continue to put a squeeze on the manpower crunch.

A recent poll of 500 companies shows that most are in an expansion mode, confident of local and global economic prospects in the first half of 2013.

Only 10 per cent of the companies see a fall in business ahead, while the majority are anticipating growth, according to the poll taken in November and December by placement firm Achieve Group.

Over half - 54 per cent - of the companies intend to recruit workers in the first six months of this year, while only 43 per cent plan to freeze hiring. This contrasts with an earlier Achieve poll for the second half of 2012, which showed only a third - 32 per cent - of the companies reporting they were going to hire, while 66 per cent planned a freeze.

Companies are already complaining that tighter foreign worker rules have made their labour problems even worse. Achieve's latest poll shows they continue to be in a helpless state, with most of them unsure about what to do about it.

Some 46 per cent of the companies polled are taking a "wait-and-see" approach in coping with the fallout of the tighter foreign worker rules.

About 9 per cent say they will be "increasing wages to attract employees", while another 11 per cent plan on "increasing multi-tasking" for workers.

Almost half - 49 per cent - of the companies say the tighter foreign worker rules will raise business costs, 10 per cent say more companies will relocate their operations overseas and 6 per cent say more companies will close down in Singapore.

All the companies planning to hire are also ready to up the pay of the new workers, but mostly by "less than 5 per cent". Half of the companies polled indicate they will give current staff a raise of "up to 3 per cent".

The poll covers nine sectors - property and construction; professional services; oil and gas; industrial manufacturing and engineering; shipping and logistics; lifestyle, retail and F&B; IT and telecommunications; healthcare and pharmaceutical; and banking and finance.

The top hirers in the next six months are likely to be the banking and finance, property and construction and IT and telecommunications sectors, with about 60 per cent of the companies polled intending to increase headcount.

Among the low hirers are likely to be the industrial manufacturing and engineering; lifestyle, retail and F&B; and healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

Only 49 per cent of the industrial manufacturing and engineering companies are planning to hire in the first half of this year.

The figures are 50 per cent for lifestyle, retail and F&B and 51 per cent for healthcare and pharmaceutical.