Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the country that is clearly ahead in the labour productivity game is Singapore. Singapore compares very favourably with only a negligible difference with the United States of America in labour productivity if measured using GDP per worker with the US worker pulling in US$94,000 of Gross Domestic Product per worker compared with the Singapore worker’s US$92,000. However if the measurement is refined to the more accurate GDP per worker per hour measure, then the gap widens considerably to 27 per cent in favour of the US worker.

Productivity is a simple enough concept of output per worker compared to input so in the case of labour productivity, this is normally measured as the number of hours of work put in against the output, measured as GDP per worker per hour. However an easier form of measurement is often used as GDP per worker simply because of the ease of gathering data. In Asian countries however, this can understate the labour input since Asians are generally known to have longer working hours compared to European or American workers in general.

The average Asean labour productivity including all the Asean countries on a GDP per worker basis is only at about 11 per cent of US productivity and indication of the generally large gap in investment into labour in many countries in Asean through education and training. (see: Thailand labour market: education and goverance concern companies) and Thailand labour market and the road to an industrialised middle income economy Part I-III)

For most other Asean countries where there is enough data to measure the per worker per hour Asean labour productivity measure, the difference between the two measurements is negligible at five per cent or below. For Malaysia, the figure rises to a nine percentage point difference. (see: Sun Setting on Skills Training) However in overall terms, the graph above shows that other countries in Asean labour productivity lag the leader, Singapore, considerably.

This large difference between the labour productivity measurements on a GDP per worker versus GDP per worker per hour basis for Singapore compared to the United States suggests that labour productivity in Singapore is pulled upwards considerably by the sheer number of hours of work that Singapore workers put in. Singapore’s labour productivity being higher compared to other countries in Asean is also due to the generally higher level of education in the working age cohort (see: Singapore higher education: what’s a degree worth). –SHARON SNODGRASS