LAST year, the average wage rise for workers in Singapore just about beat inflation. This year, it will not, going by a new survey.
Real incomes are likely to fall in 2012, according to the poll of employers by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and wage consulting firm Remuneration Data Specialists (RDS).
And those who are entering the workforce or thinking of switching jobs next year should brace themselves for a longer job hunt.
The same survey also found that hirings are expected to slow.
While eight in 10 firms are planning to take on staff this year, fewer than six in 10 are thinking of doing so next year.
In all, workers' total income is projected to rise by 1.5 per cent. But with inflation expected to stay as high as 4.2 per cent, they may see a 2.7 per cent fall in real incomes, warned SHRI and RDS.
It was a similar story last year, when salaries went up 6.1 per cent but real wage growth was 0.9 per cent because of inflation.
The picture does not get much rosier next year. Although firms are projected to increase workers' total pay by 3.1 per cent next year, the expected inflation of 3 per cent means wages will stagnate. Firms are weighed down by the sluggish United States economy, the euro zone crisis and China's slowing growth, said the survey.
In all, 167 firms were polled last month on their business prospects and remuneration plans. They cover a cross section of the economy - both multinationals and small and medium-sized enterprises from the manufacturing, services and construction sectors. SHRI and RDS have jointly conducted such surveys since 1998.
The fall in real incomes worries labour MP Zainal Sapari. 'All workers will be affected, but low-wage ones will be hardest hit,' said the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
But the findings were not completely grim. A bright spot is that starting salaries have increased by between 1.9 and 9.1 per cent. For example, N-level holders entering the workforce received a monthly pay of $1,200 this year, compared to $1,100 last year.
Eight in 10 companies also agreed with the National Wages Council's recommendation of giving a pay rise of at least $50 to low-wage workers earning less than $1,000 monthly.
Part-time kindergarten teacher Shirley Lam, 51, who earns $700 to $800 a month depending on the hours she works, said: 'Older and lower-educated workers are most affected, but we just have to cope by cutting back.'