AN INCREASE in the number of older workers and women joining the labour force has pushed up the employment rate of Singapore residents, new official figures show.
The percentage of residents aged 25 to 64 in employment grew to 78.8 this year - up from 78 per cent last year.
The rise was revealed in a Manpower Ministry report yesterday on the earnings and employment of residents.
The increase is even steeper among older workers. The employment rate for people aged 55 to 64 was 64 per cent this year - up from 61.2 per cent last year.
Among women in the prime working ages of 25 to 54, the employment rate was 74 per cent this year - up from 73 per cent last year.
However, this rate is still lower than the rate of 92.7 per cent for prime-working-age men.
More older workers and women are finding work because of a tight labour market and measures to help older workers land jobs, said the ministry's Singapore Workforce 2012 report.
These measures include the introduction of re-employment legislation and the Special Employment Credit scheme, which gives businesses a wage subsidy when they hire workers over 50.
Companies facing tightened foreign worker quotas said they are trying to attract older workers and women through flexible work schemes . They are also investing in equipment to make jobs less physically taxing.
For example, restaurant chain Paradise Group has introduced four-hour work shifts to appeal to housewives and retired people.
Warren Golf and Country Club has invested in an automated watering system so that older workers do not have to walk around the course.
National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said the union is pleased at the sharp rise in the employment of older workers. It also called for the re-employment age to be raised from 65 to 67. He added that a recent survey of 118 firms by the NTUC shows that most companies do not cut the wages of older workers when they are re-employed for the same job.
Employers interviewed said they are open to hiring older workers and housewives. However, they find that many do not last long in the job.
Paradise Group chief executive Eldwin Chua explained: "They say the job is tiring or they just don't want to do it. It is difficult to retain them."
Employment and Employability Institute acting chief executive Gilbert Tan said companies can retain older workers by training supervisors to learn how to work with them.
Economist and National University of Singapore Associate Professor Shandre Thangavelu said Singapore needs to look at encouraging more women to work by ensuring a work-life balance as well as offering tax incentives and subsidies for working mothers.
Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat, from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, noted that the report showed resident employment in non-PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) jobs grew by 2.7 per cent this year, compared with growth of 1.5 per cent for white-collar PMET jobs.
Prof Hui said more non-PMET jobs are going to residents because of the tightened foreign worker inflow. He expects this trend to continue if the current overseas worker policy continues.
The median monthly salary of Singapore residents, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, grew at a slower rate of 7.1 per cent to reach $3,480 because of the weaker economic conditions.
After accounting for inflation, real median income grew by 2.2 per cent this year, down from 2.9 per cent last year.