Education minister Ong Ye Kung sees steady job market as hiring ticks up

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung speaking to the media at Ngee Ann Polytechnic on Jan 13.
Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung speaking to the media at Ngee Ann Polytechnic on Jan 13.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore's government hopes there won't be any deterioration in unemployment next year as the job market keeps pace with 2016 levels, said Ong Ye Kung, the country's minister for education and second minister of defence.

With the unemployment rate for residents currently about 3 percent, and industries including healthcare, precision engineering and aerospace performing well and still hiring, Singapore's employment market was "not bad at all," Mr Ong said in an interview on Bloomberg TV on Tuesday.

"Next year we hope there's an uptick in several sectors and so we hope we can maintain unemployment the way it is," he said. "But more importantly is long-term unemployment. We have always kept it low and we keep it low by ensuring workers keep on re-skilling."

Singapore's export-driven economy is under pressure amid a slowdown in global trade and lower energy prices that's hurt the oil and gas services industry and caused thousands of job losses. The economy expanded 2 per cent last year, the slowest pace since 2009, and the government forecasts even lower growth this year of 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

Mr Ong is a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Singapore is concerned about the growing backlash against globalization following the UK's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the US elections. Mr Trump is opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade pact signed between countries including the US, Japan and Singapore and has vowed to impose higher tariffs on China.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting earlier this month that he is going ahead with legislation to implement TPP and urged leaders to carry on with the ratification process despite Mr Trump's opposition.

Going further than earlier trade deals, the TPP seeks to lower non-tariff barriers such as state support for government-backed companies and improving labour and environmental standards.

Koh Poh Koon, Singapore's minister of state in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said Tuesday that TPP is "a very forward-looking" agreement and the country "will continue to work with the other partners" to push for it.

"The principles behind TPP, the trade principles, are relevant to what we are seeing in terms of the modern economy," Mr Koh said in an interview. "We do hope that all future trade agreements incorporate at least elements of what TPP aspires to achieve."