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    Jan 28, 2014

    More jobs, but few takers

    MORE jobs were available in Singapore last year, but locals are still not biting - not when many of the jobs are considered hard work with low pay.

    An annual report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday revealed that there were 61,900 jobs on the market last September, up nearly 10 per cent from the previous year.

    Most of them were in the services sector, confirming that the industry was squeezed badly by the tighter foreign-worker policies introduced last year.

    According to MOM, one in four was for service roles such as sales assistants, waiters and security guards. Four in five openings were from the services sector as a whole.

    Worse still, four out of 10 jobs which were left unfilled for at least six months were for non-PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) roles.

    This includes service and sales workers, as well as cleaners, labourers and related workers.

    The MOM report said the proportion of openings considered hard to fill with locals remained unchanged from a year ago, at 66 per cent.

    These were mostly in lower-skilled jobs, with employers citing unattractive pay and physically strenuous work as the top reasons why Singaporeans were not interested.

    Industry experts were not surprised.

    Mr Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services, pointed out that these jobs have been "filled by foreigners for too long", and come with a social stigma.

    "The work involved is also usually tough and back-breaking, requiring long shift hours," he said.

    "Most Singaporeans don't want to work in an environment that may be unpleasant, as may be the case for those in the cleaning sector."

    With unemployment at only 1.8 per cent last year, Singaporeans prefer to take on jobs that come with fixed hours, rather than those in the cleaning and security sectors, said Mr Erman Tan, president of Singapore Human Resources Institute.

    Higher salaries can help, said Mr Michael Smith, country director of human resource firm Randstad.

    Earlier this month, it was announced that the progressive wage model will be legislated in the cleaning and security sectors, starting from September.

    Cleaners, for instance, will earn at least $1,000 a month, up from their current median basic wage of $820.

    Raising wages need not necessarily mean higher costs for consumers, said Mr Smith, as a "rise in salary can often lead to productivity gains".

    But companies also need to go beyond fair wages to offer other incentives, such as job security and career progression, said labour Member of Parliament Zainal Sapari.

    "Most of the jobs in the cleaning and security sectors are contract-based. We need to afford these workers more stability in their jobs, and create growth opportunities," he said.

    "The most important thing is to change public perception - that these jobs are just like any other jobs. People need to learn how to appreciate and respect these jobs and what the workers do."