More layoffs even as employment grows

About 4,600 workers lost their jobs in the first three months of this year, more than the 3,500 who were let go in the same period last year, according to preliminary estimates released by the Ministry of Manpower.
About 4,600 workers lost their jobs in the first three months of this year, more than the 3,500 who were let go in the same period last year, according to preliminary estimates released by the Ministry of Manpower.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A mixed picture of the labour market emerged yesterday, with both employment growth and redundancies rising from a year ago.

About 4,600 workers lost their jobs in the first three months of this year, more than the 3,500 who were let go in the same period last year, according to preliminary estimates released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The services sector accounted for the majority, or 2,500, of these layoffs, while manufacturing and construction saw 1,800 and 300 layoffs respectively.

The MOM said the year-on-year increase was due to ongoing business restructuring.

"Amid the cyclical weakness, and as the economy restructures, some consolidation and exit of businesses is expected, contributing to redundancies," the ministry said in a statement yesterday, reiterating its comments made last month following the release of full-year data for 2015, which saw the most layoffs here since the 2009 global financial crisis.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore also noted on Wednesday in its biannual macroeconomic review that lower labour demand and supply this year could lead to a slight rise in unemployment rates, modest job creation, and rising redundancies in sectors facing weak external demand and undergoing restructuring.

Meanwhile, employment growth of 11,400 in the first quarter of the year was higher than in the same period last year, when employment contracted by 6,100.

The growth was driven by the services sector, which added 11,900 workers last quarter.

But the manufacturing sector saw a sixth consecutive quarter of falling employment, with 2,000 fewer workers in March than in December. In all, the sector has shed 28,500 workers since the start of 2014.

When compared with the historical averages seen since the global financial crisis, the first-quarter employment growth is still weak, economists said.

"It's probably not a sign of potential improvement," said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan.

Overall unemployment held steady in the first quarter, while the unemployment rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents improved compared with the previous quarter.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 1.9 per cent as of March. The rate for citizens fell to 2.6 per cent, from 3 per cent in December, and that for Singaporeans and PRs combined was 2.7 per cent, down from 2.9 per cent.

This was largely because a smaller proportion of young people aged 15 to 24 were working or looking for work, the MOM said. There tends to be more students looking for holiday jobs at the end of the year.

But economists expect the unemployment figures to rise over the course of this year.

UOB economist Francis Tan noted that changes in unemployment rates typically lag behind growth rates by six months to a year, as companies take time to decide on their strategy and hold on to workers for as long as they can.

Recruitment company Adecco Singapore's country manager Femke Hellemons said a shift towards more project-based work is expected this year.

"Companies tend to offer more project-based jobs as they are facing three main challenges: finding the right talent with the right experience, (managing) headcount and budget freezes," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'More layoffs even as employment grows'. Print Edition | Subscribe