Civil Service Singapore: Pros and Cons Of Working For Singapore

civil service pros and cons

These days, the corporate sector is a dangerous place to be. With waves and waves of retrenchment in the news, everyone’s looking for a safe port: the Civil Service in Singapore.

Pay rates are high, the system is incorruptible, it’s an “iron rice bowl,” right? But is the Civil Service all it’s cut out to be? And what are the drawbacks to being a government, as opposed to corporate drone?

Let’s find out:


What is the Civil Service?

Many Singaporeans assume that everyone who works for the government are civil servants who are part of the Civil Service.

There is a difference. The Civil Service (85,000 officers) is a subset within the Public Service (145,000 officers), and usually refers to people who work in the government ministries and organs of state:

  • Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI)
  • Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)
  • Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
  • Ministry of Education (MOE)
  • Ministry of Finance (MOF)
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
  • Ministry of Health (MOH)
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)
  • Ministry of Law (MINLAW)
  • Ministry of Manpower (MOM)
  • Ministry of National Development (MND)
  • Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)
  • Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR)
  • Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)
  • Ministry of Transport (MOT)
  • Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)

People who work in the numerous statutory boards, such as the PUB, IRA and AVA are not considered civil servants. Rather, they are termed as “public servants”.

Generally, uniformed staff are not considered civil servants as well.

Regardless, civil servants and public servants’ job scopes generally involve serving Singapore. The biggest difference between civil servants and corporate workers is their key performance indicator (KPI).

The fire department, for example, doesn’t generate any profit. Their KPI (and hence their bonus) is based on a statistical drop in the number of fires.

In the corporate sector, KPI is seldom tied to what doesn’t happen.

So both public servants and civil servants serve the country for a living. But the difference matters for a simple reason: it will affect which pay scale you are on.


Civil Service salary and pay scale

The pay of civil servants is organised into “bands”. This makes the pay uniform across the different departments. So a sergeant in the army, for example, makes as much as a manager in a community club.

The following table is an approximation of the Management Executive (MX) scheme, derived from civil servants commenting at different forums. This is the track that most degree holders can expect to be on. In theory, the Civil Service pay scale is pegged to private sector rates.

It’s not official, by any means:

Grade Pay Range
MX9 (Directors) $11,110 to $17,370
MX10 (Senior Management) $7,000 to $11,470
MX11 (Middle Management) $4,740 to $8,305
MX12 (Management) $2,945 to $5,925
MX13 (Fresh Graduates) $3,000

Civil servant bonuses

And depending on where you are right now, civil servant bonuses can seem like too little or an absolute dream in comparison.

Across the board, civil servants typically get a 13th month payment, a mid-year bonus and a year-end bonus. Additionally, they may also receive a one-off lump sum bonus.

This is what civil servants received in 2018:

Civil servants Lower-wage civil servants
Non-Pensionable Monthly Salary (13th month)  1 month  1 month 
Mid year bonus 0.5 month 0.5 month
One-off lump sum bonus $300 $500
Year end bonus 1 month $1,800
Total bonuses  2.5 months + $300 1.5 month + $2,300


Pros of working in Singapore’s Civil Service

The main advantages of the Civil Service can be summarised in 5 main characteristics:

1. Security

The Civil Service is often called “the iron rice bowl”. It’s harder (not impossible, but much harder) to get retrenched from the Civil Service. Regardless of how far down the toilet the economy is, we’ll always need the Civil Service.

2. Consistency

Because they set the labour laws, the Civil Service has a tight adherence to them. You won’t have bosses who drawing a blank stare when you mention AWS, or have a dental scheme that involves string and a doorknob. The pay is always on time, the bonuses are predictable, and it’s easy to exercise employment rights.

3. Subsidised skills development

Singapore’s Civil Service emphasises workforce development and lifelong learning. Of course la, “upskilling” is now the buzzword of the town. If PAP is encouraging people to do it, they’d better provide it for the people who are working for them right?

As a civil servant, you can look forward to subsidised training or degree courses. Granted, you can also find this in the corporate sector; but opportunities are never as abundant and accessible as in the Civil Service.

4. Subsidised facilities

Pound for pound, the Civil Service offers some of the best employee facilities. From the SAF yacht club to the CSC Changi Chalets, Civil Servants have more discounts than Geylang has… food outlets. There are corporate sector jobs which have subsidised facilities, but few to the extent of Singapore’s Civil Service.

Read also: SAFRA Membership Fees and Facilities — Plus 10 Best SAFRA Promotions & Discounts

5. Practical services

Civil Service offers jobs with immediate, practical value. If you’re being mugged, who’d you rather see coming round the corner? A policeman with a tazer or your lawyer with a briefcase? Most Civil Service jobs are of immediate value to someone.


Cons of working in the Civil Service

The downsides to working in Civil Service are:

1. Strict top-down hierarchy

The hierarchy in a Civil Service department is strict, especially in segments like the military. Instructions come from the top-down, and there’s less communication between the levels. This is not the right career path for someone who won’t take orders, or likes to ask “why”.

2. Emphasis on paper qualifications

Talking to civil servants about government scholarships is dangerous. Apparently, you can’t even talk about this online without everyone staying civil (pun intended).

It’s a common complaint: In Civil Service your qualifications matters more than your work. You’ll have to tolerate the fact that, so long as someone has higher qualifications, they’ll probably be your boss.

Anyone who applies via [email protected] will have to input PSLE results, “O” level results, “A” level results, diploma results, and GPA for university, wherever applicable.

How well you did academically previously will also affect your future career. A ceiling exists for diploma or “O” level holders. In the corporate sector, your performance can override a lack of qualifications. But don’t count on it happening in Civil Service.

3. (Perceived) lack of creative space

The Civil Service prefers established routines. Because the last thing you want is for the riot squad to get “creative” when dealing with a teen mob. If you want jobs that reward daring initiatives and lateral thinking, most civil service jobs aren’t for you.

Then again, there’s plenty of corporate jobs that are just as bad.


In summary, should you join the Civil Service?

If you join, make sure you have a degree. Unless you’re on the MX track, there’s a risk that 10 or 20 years from now, you’ll be stuck in the same job. At the very least, join with the intent to get a degree; make full use of that subsidised education.

If you like stability and are risk averse, the Civil Service may be your thing. But if you’re the go-getter entrepreneurial type, there are less painful experiences out there.

Do you work for the Civil Service? Comment and share your thoughts!


Image credit: US Pacific Command via Flickr