SINGAPORE - Salaries in the social service sector are set to rise again, according to new pay guidelines posted on the National Council of Social Service's (NCSS) website last Thursday (March 29).

The starting pay for a social worker fresh out of university is now $3,400 a month, up 4 per cent from $3,270.

They include those with a degree in social work from the Singapore University of Social Sciences or a Bachelor of Social Sciences with a major in social work from the National University of Singapore.

The starting pay for a therapist with a degree in physiotherapy or speech and language therapy is now $3,550, up 6 per cent from $3,350.

As for special education teachers who work with children with disabilities, university graduates can now command a starting pay of $3,620, up from $3,570. These teachers also hold a diploma in special education from the National Institute of Education (NIE).

The pay increase was first announced in March during the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) budget debate.

From April 1 this year, the ministry will raise the salary guidelines for staff working in MSF-funded programmes by up to 12 per cent from its last financial year, which ended in March.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament in March: "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."

The last salary adjustment for workers in the sector took effect from April last year.

Although the MSF and the NCSS review salary guidelines every three years to ensure that wages remain competitive, pay guidelines are also adjusted in between reviews. This is to reflect wage movements in the general labour market.

The latest pay guidelines cover a host of staff in the sector, from social workers  to therapists and executives, across varying levels of seniority.

These staff are not hired by the MSF but by social service organisations, such as family service centres and children's homes, which run programmes funded by the ministry.

While it is not compulsory to adhere to the pay guidelines, charities interviewed say they follow them in order to attract and retain staff.

Mr Leng Chin Fai, executive director of Fei Yue Community Services, said: "We have to follow the salary guidelines. If not, people will hop to another organisation."

Social service personnel welcomed the increments, saying it is a recognition of their work and a reflection of the growing demand for their services. The sector had about 15,000 workers at the end of last year and will need about 1,000 more by next year.

Those interviewed also noted that social workers' salaries have risen considerably in recent years. In 2012, the recommended starting pay for a social worker fresh out of university was $2,760.

It is now $3,400, which is on a par with the starting salaries of teachers and other professions.

According to the Ministry of Education website, the starting pay of teachers with a post-graduate diploma in education from the NIE is between $3,100 and $3,500 a month.

Based on the joint graduate employment survey released in February, the median monthly salary was $3,400 last year for graduates of three universities here across a broad range of disciplines, from business and engineering to law.

However, the challenge for charities is to raise more donations to match the salary increases, as not all their programmes are funded by the MSF, said Ms Adelyn Poh, co-founder of the Children-at-Risk Empowerment Association (Care) Singapore.

And they cannot raise only the salaries of staff working in MSF-funded programmes and not others.

But organisations in the sector say donors are rarely keen to donate to fund salary increases.