Construction workers tidying up at the end of the day

The number of Work Permit holders in the construction industry has gradually declined since a peak in 2015. Last December (2018), there were 280,500 Work Permit holders in this sector, fourteen percent below the 2015 figure of 326,000.

To a large degree, the fall in the number of foreign construction workers mirrors the contraction of the construction sector. The sectoral GDP of $16.86 billion in 2018 was also fourteen percent below the peak of $19.59 billion in 2015.

There does not appear to have been any improvement in productivity in this sector which is predominantly staffed by foreigners. In 2018 as in 2015, the annual GDP per foreign Work Permit holder in the construction sector was about $60,000.

The precise numbers corresponding to the above tables are:

Overall, Work Permit holders continue to number just shy of one million. A Work Permit is for jobs that requires only the most basic any minimum skill qualification. There is no ceiling salary for Work Permit jobs, though the minimum salary for the next category (S Pass) is $2,300 (as at 2019). The S Pass minimum salary tends to rise with time but in any case, the typical salary for construction, sanitation or domestic workers is well below $2,300 — more often in the region of $400 to $$800 per month.

A fuller table of the Foreign Workforce numbers, over twelve years, is given below. All figures are in the thousands.

Contrary to the falling construction worker numbers, the number of domestic workers is increasing quite rapidly. As the Singaporean population ages, more and more care-givers are needed. There were 253,800 foreign domestic workers in December 2018, a 9.6% increase over the figure for 2015.

“Other sectors” in the Work Permit category is rather varied. The term includes sanitation, manufacturing and services — which itself comprises retail, food & beverage, healthcare, hotel and other workers. The number of Work Permit holders in this “Other” group has remained roughly constant since 2015, but may see a reduction in the near future after a quota cut from 40% of the payroll to 35% for the services sector was announced in February 2019.

The foreign workforce numbers are from the Ministry of Manpower while the Construction GDP figures are from the Department of Statistics.