Debbie Walton
Debbie Walton

Unemployment rates showing positive trends

The most recent data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia reveals that Malaysia’s unemployment rate in March stood at 3.5%, reflecting a decrease of 0.6% compared to the previous year.

When compared to February 2023, the unemployment rate remained stable in March.

Throughout March, the number of individuals without employment continued to decline, registering a 0.5% drop to 588,700 persons. This represents a substantial decrease of 12.0% compared to the same period last year.

On a positive note, the number of individuals with employment displayed an upward trajectory, experiencing a 0.2% increase (+33,700 persons) in March. The total number of employed persons reached 16.22 million, compared to 16.19 million in February. Over the course of the year, this figure grew by 2.9%.

Moreover, the labor force expanded in March, witnessing a 0.2% growth (+30,500 persons) to reach 16.81 million individuals. In February, the labor force stood at 16.78 million persons. Comparatively, this represents a 2.3% increase over the year.

Conversely, March’s labor force participation rate remained steady at 69.9% compared to the previous month, but demonstrated a positive growth of 0.7% over the year.

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Small businesses embrace generative AI tools

According to a recent report by FreshBooks, the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on organizations continues to grow, with 25% of small businesses currently utilizing or testing generative AI tools. Encouragingly, two-thirds of these businesses plan to explore these tools for their work within the next 12 months. The report surveyed 1,000 small-business owners from diverse industries in the United States and Canada during May.

The findings suggest that small-business owners are not overly concerned about AI replacing their roles, as only 44% of respondents anticipated hiring fewer people in the future due to the capabilities of AI. Mara Reiff, Chief Data Officer at FreshBooks, explained, “Anxiety over AI has been growing lately, with workers in certain industries expressing concerns that their jobs will be replaced. In the world of small business, it appears that owners don’t feel particularly threatened and don’t believe artificial intelligence can do their jobs just as well as they can. On the other hand, their eyes are wide open to the potential of using AI as a support to help them scale.”

The survey revealed that the majority of current generative AI adopters are employing it for text generation purposes, while others are leveraging its abilities to create images or conduct general business research. Most respondents reported using AI-generated content on their business websites and social media platforms. However, fewer participants stated that they utilize generative AI content for customer support and communications.

Regarding the impact of AI on their businesses, 60% of respondents believed that AI would bring about significant changes within the next five years. The areas expected to be most affected include business analytics, sales and marketing, and customer communications, according to the report. On the other hand, respondents rated human resources, recruiting, and service delivery as the areas least likely to be impacted by AI.

Despite the growing adoption of AI, privacy, ethical concerns, and intellectual property issues were significant points of worry for 80% of small-business owners. This demonstrates a recognition of the potential risks associated with AI implementation.

Overall, the FreshBooks report highlights the growing acceptance and optimism surrounding the use of generative AI tools among small businesses. As these businesses explore AI’s potential to support their growth, they remain mindful of the ethical and privacy considerations associated with this technology.

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Australia’s minimum wage to increase by AUD 1.20 per pour

Australia’s minimum wage is set to rise by AUD 1.20 (USD 0.79) per hour starting from July 1, 2023, benefiting the country’s lowest paid workers. The Fair Work Commission recently announced a 5.75% increase in the National Minimum Wage, raising the hourly pay rate from AUD 21.38 (USD 14.13) to AUD 22.60 (USD 14.94) for these workers.

Additionally, all modern award minimum wage rates will also see a 5.75% increase, effective from the first full pay period on or after July 1, 2023. Modern awards outline the minimum employment conditions and terms beyond the National Employment Standards (NES), including aspects like pay and working hours.

Despite the wage increase, workers will still experience a real wage decrease due to a 6.8% inflation rate over the past year, as of April. The decision by the Fair Work Commission falls between the 3.8% requested by some business groups, such as AiGroup, and the 7% sought by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

More than 20% of Australia’s workforce receives minimum award rates, while 0.7% earn the national minimum wage, which is the lowest rate. Fair Work Commission president Adam Hatcher acknowledged the challenges faced while making the decision, including declining wages, high inflation, and an anticipated economic slowdown.

In determining the wage increase, the commission considered the impact of inflation on the financial well-being of low-paid workers, as well as the upcoming rise in the superannuation guarantee from 10.5% to 11%. The commission also took into account the effects of a weakened job market on casual employees and relevant industries.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) expressed concerns about the increase, stating that it would impose an AUD 12.6 billion (USD 8.3 billion) wages burden on small and family businesses. ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar emphasized the negative implications for the 260,000 small and family-owned businesses that pay minimum and award wages, and he criticized the decision for potentially exacerbating high inflation amid a deteriorating economic outlook.

The wage increase fell short of the ACTU’s desired 7% raise. Sally McManus, the secretary of the ACTU, acknowledged that the increases would provide crucial support to millions of working people during the current cost-of-living crisis. She described it as a critical increase that would help these individuals stay afloat.

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Lengthening time to hire challenges employers

The duration to fill job positions experienced a slight increase during the first quarter, as indicated by a recently released report from AMS, a leading global provider of RPO, and HR research firm The Josh Bersin Co. The report reveals that the average time to hire individuals rose from 43 days, reported a year ago, to 44 days in the same period this year.

Furthermore, the study highlights a growing disparity between easy-to-fill and difficult-to-fill roles across all industries. While certain positions are successfully filled within a mere 14 days, many vacancies persist for two to three months or even longer.

The report encompasses data collected from eight different industries and over 25 countries worldwide.

“As demonstrated by our data, the time required for hiring has consistently increased over the past four years,” stated Jim Sykes, the global managing director of client operations at AMS. “It is crucial to understand that the hiring landscape will not become easier in the near future. HR and talent leaders must continue to innovate and revamp their strategies for talent acquisition, development, and retention.”

According to the report, the energy and defense sectors endure the lengthiest hiring processes, exceeding 67 days, with further delays anticipated this year. Following closely, professional services recorded the second-longest average time to hire, reaching 47 days. The tech industry also faces persistent challenges in filling positions.

“Regardless of the current state of the global economy, it is evident that the availability of certain skill sets does not align with the existing demand and the gaps that need to be filled,” explained Josh Bersin, the global HR research analyst and CEO of The Josh Bersin Co. “Forward-thinking HR and talent acquisition pioneers have recognized this and are exploring unconventional approaches to talent development, cross-functional role assignments, and proactively ensuring a continuous pipeline for succession planning and new positions.”

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Wage growth soars in Singapore

A recent report from the Ministry of Manpower’s Research and Statistics Department revealed that more firms in Singapore were able to raise their employees’ wages in 2022 compared to the previous year. The report highlighted that nominal wage growth in 2022 reached its highest level in a decade.

Despite the challenges posed by higher inflation, real wages continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace compared to 2021. The data indicated a robust wage growth pattern in the face of increased manpower demand.

The report outlined that nominal total wages, which included employer CPF (pension) contributions, for full-time resident employees (Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents) who had been with the same employer for at least one year, rose by 6.5% in 2022.

Moreover, the Ministry of Manpower’s findings demonstrated that the nominal wage increase in 2022 was significantly higher than in the previous year, recording a 3.9% increase. This upward trend reflected firms’ efforts to restore the wages of employees who experienced cuts during the pandemic years. Additionally, companies granted higher wage increases to retain staff amidst the intensifying competition for workers.

While nominal wage growth managed to keep pace with inflation, resulting in real wage growth, the rate of growth was notably dampened. Real wages experienced a marginal increase of 0.4% in 2022, falling below the 1.6% growth witnessed in 2021. The report attributed this slower growth to the considerably higher inflation rate in 2022 (6.1%) compared to the previous year (2.3%).

Notably, all industries in Singapore observed higher wage growth in 2022 compared to 2021, although the extent of the increase varied across sectors. Accommodation and Retail Trade reported above-average wage increases of 9.7% and 6.7% respectively. These industries raised wages to attract and retain workers amidst a strong recovery in tourism demand.

The Financial Services (9.0%), Information & Communications (7.7%), and Professional Services (7.6%) sectors continued to experience robust wage growth in 2022, driven by sustained manpower demand.

Meanwhile, Manufacturing (5.7%) and Wholesale Trade (5.8%) firms also increased employee wages, although to a lesser extent due to global supply chain disruptions and weakness in trade-related activities.

The report further highlighted an encouraging trend, as the proportion of profitable establishments rose for the second consecutive year, reaching 83.9% in 2022. Consequently, the percentage of establishments that offered wage increases increased from 60.0% in 2021 to 72.2% in 2022, surpassing the pre-pandemic level in 2019 (69.2%).

The number of establishments that reduced employee wages remained relatively low at 5.2%, while the remaining 22.6% maintained wages unchanged.

Among establishments that provided wage increases, the magnitude of the increase was larger in 2022 (7.9%) compared to the previous year (6.3%). Conversely, establishments that implemented wage cuts saw a smaller magnitude of reduction compared to the previous year, with the figure decreasing from -5.2% to -4.5%.

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Legislation proposed to boost benefits for independent workers

A new piece of legislation has been introduced by bipartisan US senators, aiming to simplify the process for independent workers, including independent contractors and temporary workers, to receive essential benefits like healthcare and life insurance. The proposed act, known as the “Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act,” intends to enhance accessibility to various benefits, such as retirement savings, workers’ compensation, disability insurance, sick leave, and training. It also includes provisions for allocating $20 million in grants to states, supporting innovative portable benefits programs.

The lawmakers behind the bill, including US Sen. Mark Warner from Virginia, emphasize the need to adapt to the evolving nature of the American workforce. With an increasing number of individuals engaging in part-time, contract, or other non-traditional work arrangements, the current retirement and savings programs are insufficient in meeting the needs of these workers. The proposed legislation seeks to foster experimentation and implementation of portable benefits programs at the state and local levels, acknowledging the realities of the 21st-century workforce.

The bill’s introduction is a collaborative effort, with Sen. Kevin Cramer from North Dakota and Sen. Todd Young from Indiana joining Sen. Warner. The lawmakers stress that independent workers constitute a significant portion of the workforce, yet they often lack access to the benefits commonly provided by employers. They argue that non-traditional workers in North Dakota, and across the nation, deserve the same financial stability and benefits as their counterparts in conventional employment arrangements. The proposed pilot programs would encourage state and local governments to facilitate portable benefits, thereby providing additional financial security for independent contractors.

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Separations decline as demand for workers remains robust

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, seasonally adjusted data released today reveals that job openings in April surpassed those in March, reaching their peak since January. Conversely, separations, including both quits and layoffs, decreased in April compared to March and reached their lowest levels since 2021.

ABC News reported that the unexpected surge in job openings highlights the robustness of the US labor market. Nick Bunker, research director at the Indeed Hiring Lab, stated, “Demand for workers remains strong, and the labor market continues to perform well.”

In April, the US witnessed a total of 10.1 million job openings, reflecting an increase of 358,000 positions from March. However, when compared to the same month last year, there were 1.65 million fewer job openings.

The sectors experiencing growth in job openings were retail trade, healthcare and social assistance, as well as transportation, warehousing, and utilities.

Total separations declined by 4.8% in April compared to March, with a year-over-year decrease of 7.6%. These figures marked the lowest level since May 2021. Separations encompass both voluntary resignations (quits) and layoffs or discharges.

In April, quits amounted to nearly 3.8 million, representing the lowest level since March 2021. This indicated a decrease of 49,000 from the previous month and 704,000 from the previous year.

Meanwhile, layoffs and discharges in April totaled 1.58 million, indicating a decline of 264,000 from March. However, the number of layoffs and discharges increased by 239,000 compared to the previous year.

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New Acts to take effect in 2024 

A wave of legislative changes swept through the realm of employment law, as three pivotal bills were granted royal assent, poised to revolutionise HR practices and empower working parents. The Carer’s Leave Act, Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act, and Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act are slated to take effect in 2024. 

These forthcoming laws demand early preparation from employers in England, Scotland, and Wales, as they bring profound transformations to the landscape of employment. Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, delves into the imminent changes and their implications for businesses: 

  1. The Carer’s Leave Act: This legislation introduces a groundbreaking entitlement of one week’s unpaid leave per year for employees responsible for the care of dependents with long-term care needs. From the very first day of employment, eligible employees can exercise this right without the need for extensive evidence, only requiring self-certification. This leave can be utilised for various forms of caregiving, ranging from accompanying individuals to medical appointments to offering financial assistance. While there are no limitations on how the leave can be employed, the customary criteria for defining “dependents” will still apply. The purpose of this law is to streamline the process for both businesses and employees, fostering a more seamless experience.

  2. The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act: Under this legislation, parents of babies admitted to the hospital within the first 28 days of their lives will enjoy Neonatal Leave and Pay if the hospital stay surpasses seven consecutive days. A maximum of 12 weeks of leave can be availed, to be taken as a continuous block at the culmination of maternity or paternity leave. The government is yet to finalise the intricacies of how this new entitlement will interact with shared parental leave. Neonatal pay, which is subject to 26 weeks of service and surpassing the lower earnings limit (currently set at £123 per week), will be provided by statute. While a notice will be required, informal short notices will be permissible for leaves initiated soon after hospital admission. In cases where the leave begins before recent admission, one week’s notice will be anticipated.
  3. The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act: This act amplifies the current safeguards extended to employees on maternity leave during redundancy scenarios. Presently, when companies face redundancy situations, they are obliged to offer suitable alternative positions to employees on maternity leave, provided one exists. With the introduction of this act, the same protection will be accorded to individuals on adoption or shared parental leave. Furthermore, the safeguarding will commence from the moment an employee informs their employer of their pregnancy, be it verbally or in writing, and endure for 18 months following the birth. 

“Regulations pertaining to each of these laws will be issued prior to their implementation. Though this is expected to occur next year, it is imperative for businesses to begin preparing now. These changes are momentous, necessitating employers to familiarise themselves with the intricacies, effectively communicate the information to their employees regarding their impending rights, and establish processes to ensure compliance once the laws take effect,” advises Kate Palmer. 

 “Should eligible employees find themselves deprived of the rights enshrined in these new laws, they will have the option to file claims with the employment tribunal. Similarly, if an employee faces discrimination or dismissal due to availing leave granted by these new laws, they may also pursue legal recourse,” she further clarifies. 


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Japanese firms embrace ChatGPT for recruitment process

According to a report by The Mainichi, approximately 70% of recruitment staff at private firms in Japan have stated that their desire to hire candidates would not be influenced by the use of the ChatGPT chatbot for creating CVs, coversheets, and other screening materials. This information comes from a survey conducted by staffing firm Workport, which involved 139 human resource officers from companies across the country between May 9th and 16th.

Out of the respondents, 75.5% stated that the use of interactive artificial intelligence software by mid-career job applicants would not impact their hiring decision, while only 22.3% mentioned it would discourage them from considering such candidates. Some of those who expressed indifference towards the use of ChatGPT stated that they focused more on assessing work experience and achievements rather than the candidates’ writing skills.

When asked about the possibility of banning ChatGPT in the recruitment process, 71% of respondents said they had no plans to do so. The survey added that even if a ban were implemented, distinguishing between the chatbot’s writing and that produced by humans would be challenging, and some firms might be skeptical about establishing strict rules regarding the use of this technology.

Workport also conducted a survey in April, involving 480 individuals aged between their 20s and 40s, regarding ChatGPT. Nearly a third of the respondents (31%) confirmed that they had used a chatbot when attempting to change jobs. Many of them utilized the chatbot for composing and revising their written materials for job applications and other recruitment-related documents.

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UK employees spend less time in the office than global counterparts

Flexible-working is the new battleground for talent – with a number of employers and employees at odds with ways of working. The battle lines have been drawn up; one side UK workers, are spending less time in the office than any other country, while on the other is the UK’s Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, strongly urging employees to get back into the office to boost productivity. The clash of the cultures continues.

The conflict between flexible working vs working in the office rages on with no signs of abating. Last month Jeremy Hunt called for working in the office to be the new “default” contradicting the UK worker’s drive to work from home. He believes workers who permanently work from home are missing out on building team spirit and the “water cooler moments,” adding: “There’s nothing like sitting around a table, seeing people face to face.”  While admitting hybrid working had its benefits – especially for those with caring commitments and mobility issues – he worries long term about the “loss of creativity.”


This is backed up by research from Right Management UK arguing 38% of senior business leaders believe remote workers are less likely to spend any time with their senior managers and 26% of senior leaders say hybrid workers are less likely to be considered for promotion.

However, this isn’t a view echoed by all industry leaders, with some believing flexi-working is critical to businesses retaining the best talent and maintaining a competitive edge, Paul Devoy, CEO of Investors in People, said the chancellor was looking at remote and flexible working through a: “Very narrow lens – especially as his opinions on office work bestows some mythical magic on the office.”

According to a recent study; Returning for Good, a Unispace Global Workplace Insights report,  it appears UK employees are firmly in the driving seat when it comes to knowing where and how they want to work – with only 34% of UK employees currently in the office four or more days a week – below the global average of 50%. Despite these comparatively low attendance levels, employees want to reduce the number of days spent in the workplace even further, with just 21% of workers in the UK currently happy to spend four or more days per week in the office.

This data highlights a gaping misalignment between the expectations of employers and employees, with 74% of UK firms expecting increased office attendance compared to only 53% of UK workers expecting to eventually be in the office at least four days a week. In the war for talent, enforcing working from home policies could be greatly damaging for employers with career progression at risk with 75% of businesses stating this is limited for hybrid workers. Some believe hybrid working has a negative impact on not only career progression, but also; pay rises, promotions and bonuses.

With the increasing demand for flexi-working, it appears, the mindset of employees keen to balance their personal and professional lives is unlikely to change – especially during the cost-of-living crisis driving up transport costs, for this reason alone, it makes economic sense to work from home.

Aside from recognising that many frontline workers are unable to work from home – no one can deny that hybrid working is here to stay in the UK – employers can’t push the genie back into the bottle! For working harmony, employers need to adapt and find a compromise which supports both business productivity and staff wellbeing. It comes down to a balancing act between meeting the needs of the business as well as the expectations of the current staff, as well as attracting and retaining the best talent. Rolling back on the flexibility gains seems counter intuitive and a huge step backwards and will certainly hinder an employer’s fight for hard-won talent.

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