More find jobs last year amid tight labour market

Total employment up by 134,900; locals filled 60% of the jobs

More people in Singapore found jobs last year amid a tight labour market.

Total employment grew by an estimated 134,900 in 2013, up from 129,100 the year before, according to a report released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday.

Over 60 per cent of these jobs went to locals, that is Singaporeans and permanent residents, as curbs on foreign manpower continued to bite.

Most of the employment growth came in the services sector, followed by construction and manufacturing - although the latter two also laid off more workers than in 2012.

All this meant that yearly unemployment fell to the lowest in a decade, according to preliminary figures. The jobless rate was 1.9 per cent overall and 2.9 per cent for citizens.

The unemployed also needed less time to find a job than before. A separate MOM report showed that those who had been seeking work for at least 15 weeks made up 31.9 per cent of unemployed residents in June 2013, down from 33.7 per cent the year before.

Meanwhile, earnings also went up last year. Among citizens, the median worker made $3,480 as at June 2013, up 7.1 per cent from the year before.

After accounting for 2.4 per cent inflation, median incomes still grew 4.6 per cent - much stronger than the 1.2 per cent seen in 2012.

Looking at the past five years, real median income for residents, after adjusting for inflation, has grown 9.8 per cent now, or about 2 per cent a year.

Workers in the bottom-fifth kept pace, their incomes growing 8.7 per cent.

This wage growth is likely to continue for this year, said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan yesterday. But he warned that without the drop in certificate of entitlement prices that pulled down inflation last year, real incomes may not rise as much.

Companies are also likely to pass on some rising wage costs to consumers, raising the price of goods and services, he added.

Economists cautioned that the persistently tight labour market will continue to be a worry for businesses.

"Firms might be forced to employ workers who are less skilful, but for higher wages," said National University of Singapore labour economist Shandre Thangavelu.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said he expects "more carrot-and-stick measures and the fine-tuning of prevailing incentives to get companies to climb the productivity ladder".

joseow@sph.com.sg

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