Job market continues to weaken in third quarter

Office workers crossing the junction at Lau Pa Sat on Feb 18, 2015.
Office workers crossing the junction at Lau Pa Sat on Feb 18, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

Employment growth lowest since 2009; unemployment up for residents and citizens

Dragged down by low economic growth, the job market continued to show signs of weakening in the third quarter.

Employment growth this year so far is at the lowest it has been since 2009, the Manpower Ministry's latest labour report showed yesterday.

However, job vacancies still outnumbered job seekers, though the ratio has moderated. While overall unemployment remained unchanged at a low 2 per cent, unemployment rates crept up for residents and citizens for the second consecutive quarter.

Experts said these were part of the restructuring pains to be expected from the nationwide push towards productivity, on top of weakening global demand. An interest rate hike by the United States Federal Reserve could make the picture even more bleak.

While total employment in the third quarter grew by 12,600 - about 3,000 more than the preceding quarter - it was still just slightly over one-third of the 33,400 jobs added in the same period last year.

In total, the first three quarters of this year saw the labour force grow by 16,200 - a drastic decrease from 89,400 in the same period last year and the lowest growth since the recession year of 2009.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said: "Companies are answering the call to raise productivity, but their bid to do this could come at the expense of lower employment rates. It is a trade-off."

The growth was driven mainly by the services sector, which added 13,300 jobs, although wholesale, retail and real estate continued to shed workers. Job growth also slackened in the construction sector.

Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho expects the outlook for next year's growth to remain subdued.

Unemployment inched up to 3 per cent for residents and 3.1 per cent for citizens, from 2.8 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively in June. More people were also stuck in the job hunt for 25 weeks or more, as the long-term unemployment rate for residents reached 0.6 per cent, a high last seen in 2013.

There were 12,800 long-term jobless residents in September, up from 10,800 the year before.

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira said these unemployment trends "suggest the labour market is becoming less tight". He added, however, that well-educated older professionals, managers, executives and technicians would continue to bear the brunt of long-term unemployment.

Mature job seekers and degree holders made up the bulk of long- term unemployed residents; 9,000 were aged 40 and above, while 6,300 held degrees.

Although job openings continued to outnumber job seekers, the gap closed further as seasonally adjusted vacancies declined by 11 per cent to 55,600. This produced a ratio of 116 vacancies per 100 job seekers, down from 121 in June.

Mr Seah said: "The Singapore economy will continue to face external headwinds and risks pertaining to the slowdown in China, as well as the potential impact of the Fed rate hike." The Fed is expected to raise US interest rates this week, which could dampen domestic demand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Job market continues to weaken in third quarter'. Print Edition | Subscribe