More locals in jobs last year but productivity slips: latest MOM figures

SINGAPORE - Local employment grew last year at the fastest pace in a decade, as businesses struggled to meet labour demand amidst a slowdown in foreign employment growth.

Local employment grew by 96,000 in 2014, while foreign employment growth, excluding maids, slowed to 26,000, the lowest level since the 2009 recession, according to data released on Friday by the Manpower Ministry (MOM).

This led to an overall dip in employment growth to 130,100, slightly lower than the 136,200 in 2013.

The tight labour market continued to push up the real median income of full-time employed Singaporeans, which rose by 1.4 per cent. This is lower than the 4.7 per cent of 2013.

But labour productivity fell into negative territory, contracting 0.8 per cent last year, as less productive domestically-oriented sectors such as food and beverage services and construction took up a bigger share of the workers in employment.

"Going forward, the tight labour market will continue to place upward pressure on wages. However, these wage increases can only be sustained in the long-term through productivity growth," said the MOM.

Unemployment remained low last year at 2.0 per cent overall and 2.9 per cent for Singaporeans. But more workers were laid off amid ongoing business restructuring. Some 12,930 lost their jobs last year, compared with 11,560 in 2013.

Despite this, the seasonally-adjusted number of job vacancies shot to a record high of 65,600 as at December 2014, up from 60,700 a year earlier.

"It remains crucial for the Singapore economy to restructure towards reducing reliance on manpower," said the MOM. "With the labour market expected to tighten further as local employment growth slows, businesses should step up efforts to adopt less labour-intensive practices."

joseow@sph.com.sg