SINGAPORE'S robust economic recovery and tight labour market over the past year have brought cheer for workers on several fronts, going by data in a just-released report on employment and earnings.
Employment among residents which is at its highest level since 1991 - when the Government started collecting and publishing data on the resident workforce and employment rate - was fuelled in part by more women and older residents being attracted to join the workforce.
Employees were also pocketing slightly higher salaries. The median monthly income for all employed residents was $2,500 as at June this year.
While this was a 3.3 per cent spike compared to $2,420 as at June last year, the real change for workers - after adjusting for inflation - was just 1 per cent.
Still, the increase pushed income levels closer towards the Government's goal of raising Singaporeans' median income to $3,100 by 2020.
Also encouraging in the Singapore Workforce 2010 report, released yesterday by the Manpower Ministry, was data which showed a modest drop in the number of low-wage workers - those who earn $1,200 or less a month.
There were 262,700 such workers holding full-time jobs in June this year - less than the 275,000 in June last year.
If those with part-time jobs are included, the total number of low-wage workers stood at 400,100 as at June. The number is again slightly lower than the 401,600 such workers as at June last year.
The chief reason for the dip: They graduated to higher-paying jobs on the back of the stronger economy.
According to the report - based on the yearly Labour Force Survey in June of around 30,000 households - the stronger economy also drew more women and older Singaporeans and permanent residents into the workforce.
The employment rate of residents aged 25 to 64 was at a record 77.1 per cent, up from 75.8 per cent in June last year.
The resident workforce, which is made up of citizens and permanent residents, stood at 2.05 million in June.
A more up-to-date figure of the resident workforce since then was not immediately available.
But the report's data squares with the rosy picture of the labour market.
The Manpower Ministry's flash estimates of the job situation from July to September this year showed that the unemployment rate of 2.1 per cent was at its lowest since March 2008.
Those same estimates also found that the economy had, up to September, created 85,500 jobs. Singapore remains on track to meet the Government's projection of adding 100,000 jobs or more for the whole of this year.
Unionists and economists contacted yesterday agreed with the ministry's assessment that the strong economic recovery was the key factor for higher employment rates and better wages.
But they also cited the tighter labour market, especially in the services sector, and better skills that workers picked up through training initiatives.
National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Halimah Yacob said it showed Singapore's strategy of upgrading workers' skills during the downturn had paid off.
The report's data showed, for instance, that employment rates for women aged 25 to 54, and for older workers aged 55 to 64, stood at 71.7 per cent and 59 per cent respectively.
That more women were in jobs was also due in no small part to the work of the NTUC's Women's Development Secretariat since 2007, Madam Halimah said.
This year, it matched 3,300 out-of- work women with jobs which provide more job opportunities and more flexible working arrangements for women, she added. The jobs were found mostly in the fast-growing food and beverage and retail industries.
She said the increase in median incomes was a sign that more employers saw the need to pay better wages to attract and keep workers with higher skills.
Similarly, economist Tan Khee Giap of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy commended the Workforce Development Agency for its efforts in upgrading the skills of workers and matching them to available jobs. He predicted a rise in nominal median incomes of at least 5 per cent by June next year, with the services sector and two integrated resorts set to grow and further tighten the labour market.
But he acknowledged that the nominal increase in median incomes would be eroded by inflation, which is forecast to be around 4 per cent by the year-end and remain at that level until June next year.