Employment growth slows to lowest in 12 years; unemployment remains low

Office workers cross a road in the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore.
Office workers cross a road in the Central Business District (CBD) of Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say giving a press briefing about preliminary labour statistics for 2015.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say giving a press briefing about preliminary labour statistics for 2015.ST PHOTO: JOANNA SEOW

SINGAPORE - Just 31,800 more people here were employed at the end of last year - the lowest annual growth since 2003 - although unemployment remained low.

Citizens and permanent residents made up 100 of these, with the bulk of the growth coming from the foreign workforce. This brought the total number of people in jobs here to 3,655,600 as of last month, said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) on Thursday (Jan 28).

The slower growth took place "amidst sluggish global economic conditions and slower growth of the Singapore economy, and tightened supply of foreign manpower", said MOM in a statement.

Growth in both local and foreign manpower was slower than in previous years.

The overall unemployment rate remained low at 1.9 per cent, down from 2 per cent in 2014, according to preliminary data for last year.

Unemployment for citizens held steady, with the unemployment rate remaining at 2.9 per cent for 2015 and 2014. The rate for citizens and permanent residents rose slightly to 2.8 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent.

Even though employment growth has slowed significantly, the low unemployment rate shows that “the constraint is not on jobs, the constraint is on the workforce”, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say at a media briefing.

He contrasted it to the 2009 downturn, when a drop in employment growth was accompanied by a sharp uptick in the unemployment rate.

More workers were let go last year, especially in the manufacturing and services sectors, which saw 5,000 and 7,800 redundancies respectively.

A total of 14,400 workers lost their jobs last year, up from 12,930 in 2014, continuing a steady rise since 2010.

The continued labour market tightness and manpower shortages in some industries helped push up median incomes for citizens last year.

Median income, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, for Singaporeans working full-time grew 6.5 per cent from June 2014 to June last year to reach $3,798. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

Over the past five years, real income growth at both the middle and bottom 20 per cent of the income ladder kept pace with each other, growing by an average of 3 per cent and 2.9 per cent per year respectively.