More workers but jobless rate up for S'poreans

More Singaporeans found themselves out of a job in the second quarter of the year, even though employment growth rebounded.
More Singaporeans found themselves out of a job in the second quarter of the year, even though employment growth rebounded. PHOTO: ST FILE

Citizen unemployment rate rises to 2.9% in Q2; job growth partly due to construction

More Singaporeans found themselves out of a job in the second quarter of the year, even though employment growth rebounded.

And out of the 15,700 more jobs filled between April and June this year, a significant proportion was in construction.

The rise in the unemployment rate for citizens, from 2.6 per cent to 2.9 per cent, prompted Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say to say he is watching the situation closely.

"I am not taking any chances on this," he said in a Facebook post yesterday, adding that he wants to ensure the rising unemployment is not due to a skills and expectations mismatch between job seekers and employers.

He said his ministry is pushing hard for the SkillsFuture movement to create better career opportunities for Singaporeans.

"Our employment rate is one of the highest globally while our unemployment rate is one of the lowest. We must strive to keep it this way for as long as we can."

Overall, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate crept up to 2 per cent last quarter, up from 1.8 per cent in the previous quarter, according to preliminary data released by the Manpower Ministry.

After employment contracted in the previous quarter, more people were employed in June than in March. The total number of people employed in Singapore is now 3,633,500, but last quarter's growth of 15,700 was still slower than the 27,700 workers added a year ago. The services and construction sectors added 11,400 and 7,800 workers respectively, while manufacturing shed 3,500 workers.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin noted that some of the lift was from the construction sector, which tends to be more cyclical and employs mostly foreigners.

In total, just 9,600 more jobs were filled in the first half of the year, compared with 56,000 in the same period last year. In his post, Mr Lim said the slow employment growth was "not unexpected".

"We are slowing down the increase of foreign manpower and at the same time speeding up the development of a stronger Singaporean core in all major sectors of our economy," he said.

There is a chance that the numbers could worsen again, after the tighter restrictions on foreign worker ratios came into full force on July 1, said Dr Chua.

But the current level of employment growth is more manageable than previous highs, said SIM University economist and Nominated MP Randolph Tan. "This kind of growth will not test our infrastructural growth," he said.

Economists cautioned that unemployment rates, though not abnormally high compared with those of recent years, would need to be monitored, especially as weak economic conditions are expected to persist.

Said Dr Chua: "Instead of creating one job for locals and one for foreigners, a company could create no jobs and there is a danger of Singaporean workers losing out."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'More workers but jobless rate up for S'poreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe