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Singapore's productivity lags most developed countries: DPM Tharman

Check out his two cents.

In a Facebook post, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Singapore's level of productivity is well below that of most developed countries, saying that "even Hong Kong uses fewer workers in its restaurants" than Singapore does.

Here's what DPM Tharman said in his Facebook post:

Our restaurants are having great difficulty finding employees. Today’s Sunday Times has a feature on this. Some restaurants have raised pay to attract part-timers during the peak Lunar New Year season. But most still have difficulty finding people, because the overall labour market is close to full employment.

These are real problems for businesses, but the solution is not to ease up on foreign worker policies. The solution has to be more fundamental. Those who have been in restaurants or coffee bars in the US or Europe or Japan can see the difference. They have fewer workers, but are able to do well. The same employee handles more duties, and serves more tables. The employees are well-paid, both full-time and part-time. They know their stuff, including details of the dishes on the menu, and are well trained. The restaurants also employ older workers, give them good jobs with some adjustments where required, and customers treat them with respect. And the employees wear their uniforms with pride.

Well-trained; proud of their jobs; well-paid. That’s what productivity is about. Our level of productivity is well below that in the most developed countries. Even HK uses fewer workers in its restaurants than we do in Singapore.

Consumers too have to adjust, because the higher wages of waiters and kitchen staff in these countries often means higher prices compared to Singapore. But with higher productivity, price increases can be minimised even with wages going up. That’s why productivity is the key to upgrading our incomes and standard of living.

Even with our tighter foreign worker policies, we will need foreign workers in the restaurants and other businesses which cannot find enough Singaporeans. But the fundamental and sustainable solution is to transform the jobs. Everyone has to play their part: The employers to transform the way businesses run and share productivity gains with their employees through higher pay. Employees to pick up skills and keep learning on the job. The Government to keep our foreign worker policy tight, but at the same time lend strong support to help this upgrading and upskilling in every sector. And customers too playing their part by treating workers in ordinary jobs with respect, everywhere we meet them.

I met the waiter in the photo, Detlef Gurnior, at a café in Berlin when I was there for a couple of days in December during my annual family holiday. He is 73 - he had a good laugh when I asked him if he was 65 - that’s the way he looked. He was proud of his job, and it showed when he spoke. I watched him moving around - taking orders from many tables, handling the bills, even moving chairs to match the number of customers at a table. He had a broad smile for every customer, and they had a smile for him.

The cafe had few workers, but was doing very well. We have some restaurants like that in Singapore too, but we need many more like that.

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