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Care workers here greatly underpaid

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In report by Lien Foundation, such workers are found to be paid far less than peers in other countries and those in other jobs

Workers who care for the elderly in nursing homes, daycare centres and at home are paid a lot less than their peers in other countries with similarly ageing populations.

Their pay is also lower than those in other jobs in Singapore that require similar educational qualifications, including receptionists and sales assistants.

The low pay, coupled with a high turnover rate, could make it difficult for Singapore to meet its target of growing the long-term care workforce by 45 per cent between last year and 2020, said a report released yesterday by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

"Despite concerted efforts to raise pay, redesign jobs and improve skills and productivity, the sector seems afflicted by constant churn," it added.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 and older, up from one in eight in 2016.

The six-month study compared its findings in Singapore with research on Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea - four advanced and fast-ageing economies in Asia Pacific.

Singapore ranks lowest among them on wages for long-term care workers, despite its median wage across all occupations being second to Australia.

A Singaporean nursing aide earns on average $1,350 a month after taxes, compared with $3,750 in Hong Kong and $3,290 in Australia.

While wages in the sector have risen by 30 per cent since 2012, median salaries for local and foreign workers lag behind other jobs requiring similar qualifications.

For instance, receptionists earn $1,000 more a month than nursing aides, who help the elderly with activities such as eating and bathing.

Low wages could account for turnover rates being double those in hospitals, with workers staying put for an average of 3.4 years, the report found.

Higher wages in other countries could be drawing talent away from Singapore, it said.

The sector has been stagnating in creating a skills ladder and redesigning jobs President of the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union, K. Thanaletchimi

Of the five economies, Singapore relies most on foreign workers, who make up 70 per cent of such workers here, compared with 32 per cent in Australia and below 10 per cent in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Last year, there were 11,000 workers in the sector, of whom 8,300 are direct care workers.

One way to raise salaries is to introduce a progressive wage model (PWM) for the sector, which should also cover foreign workers, said Ms Radha Basu, director of research and advocacy at Lien Foundation.

A PWM specifies wages at various rungs according to skill and experience levels, with workers earning more as they upgrade their skills.

Ms K. Thanaletchimi, president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union, is not surprised by the findings.

"The sector has been stagnating in creating a skills ladder and redesigning jobs," she said.

She suggested setting up an association to set guidelines and standards, such as benchmarks for wages.