Modest bonuses, wage rises expected

That expensive holiday or luxury car may have to wait.

Workers are not likely to get bumper payouts in the current bonus season and salary increases are expected to be modest this year in a slowing economy, surveys indicate.

But most will still receive bonuses of between 1.5 and 2.4 months' pay on top of their annual wage supplement - commonly known as the 13th-month payment - say recruitment and remuneration firms and industry associations.

While some firms pay workers bonuses throughout the year, most pay the bulk of their bonuses in December and January.

Although the economy grew 4.4 per cent in the fourth quarter last year compared with the same period a year ago, it shrank 2.7 per cent compared with the third quarter, based on official advance data released on Thursday.

Consulting firm Hay Group surveyed 531 Singapore-based firms at the end of last year on their planned bonus payouts. These firms are giving their staff an average variable bonus of 2.4 months' pay, excluding the 13th-month payment.

The Singapore National Employers Federation (Snef) did a similar survey of its 310 members in November. They are giving a median bonus of 1.5 months' pay, excluding the 13th-month payment.

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Singapore's largest employer, the Government, paid 2.5 months' bonus in total - including the 13th-month payment - to its 80,000 civil servants last year.

The average bonus payouts by the companies surveyed by Hay Group, Snef and remuneration firms are lower than what some unionised firms are paying. The National Trades Union Congress said earlier this week that three in 10 unionised firms are paying average bonuses of four months, based on a preliminary survey.

Remuneration firms say many factors affect the bonuses.

Mr Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters Singapore, said it depends on the performance of the individual worker, the company and the industry, and whether that worker contributes directly to the bottom line.

The oil and gas and financial services sectors are likely to be the most generous, said Mr Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Singapore and Malaysia, and Mr George McFerran, Asia-Pacific managing director of eFinancialCareers.

Meanwhile, workers can expect modest pay hikes of 4.1 per cent to 4.8 per cent this year.

This is based on projections by Hay Group, Hays, ECA International, Towers Watson Singapore and executive research firm Remuneration Data Specialists.

"In general, most sectors are forecasting the same salary increases this year as last year. This shows a lack of optimism in the economy in the next 12 months," said Mr Lee Quane, regional director for Asia at human resource consultancy ECA International.

Mr Kurt Wee, the president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, noted that while SMEs want to pay their staff well to retain them in a tight labour market, very few will be able to match the four months' bonus some unionised firms are giving.

"It is not that we don't want to pay workers well, but we are squeezed by rising rents and higher levies," he said.

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