PMETs hard hit amid rise in layoffs last year

A man using handphone outside Raffles Place MRT in the Central Business District (CBD) area of Singapore.
A man using handphone outside Raffles Place MRT in the Central Business District (CBD) area of Singapore. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

White-collar workers bore the brunt of the rise in layoffs last year, according to a Manpower Ministry report released yesterday, which expanded on last month's data showing that redundancies had risen for the fifth year in a row.

Among the 9,090 residents who lost their jobs last year, 65 per cent were aged 40 and above, and 71 per cent were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) - up from 66 per cent the year before. The latter group proved increasingly vulnerable, experiencing 8.9 layoffs per 1,000 employees, up from 7.1 the year before, and the highest figure since 2009. The overall incidence was 7.4 layoffs per 1,000 employees.

Residents were less likely to lose their jobs than foreigners - with 7.1 per 1,000 resident employees made redundant, compared with 7.7 foreigners. But residents also took slightly longer to find new jobs after being laid off. Eight in 10 took about three months or less to re-enter employment, but the average time required inched up to 2.21 months, the most since 2009.

PMETs took even longer, requiring an average of 2.37 months. Of those who secured new jobs, 70 per cent had to move to a different industry and were most likely to find work in wholesale and retail trade or administrative and support services.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said the growing number of displaced PMETs could exacerbate the problem of under-employment if the new jobs they find do not match their qualifications. "Imagine bankers or production managers who are retrenched and become Uber drivers. We are not fulfilling the full potential of the labour force and this will become a problem," he said.

Some 15,580 workers were laid off last year, a 20 per cent rise from 2014 and the highest number since the 2009 global financial crisis.

The unemployment rate remained low for Singaporeans at 2.9 per cent, however, and vacancies still outnumbered job-seekers.

Layoffs rose across all broad sectors last year, with manufacturing proving especially susceptible. It shed 5,210 workers, 31 per cent more than in 2014, following the pressures of the global oil slump and falling demand in the marine and construction sectors.

The service sector was another troubled industry, where 8,510 lost their jobs, 17 per cent more than in the year before. Layoffs also edged up in construction for the third year in a row.

Firms once more cited business restructuring as the top reason for layoffs. But an increasing proportion blamed the downturn.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'PMETs hard hit amid rise in layoffs last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe