Fewer retrenchments, overall unemployment rate rises slightly in third quarter

Overall, the labour market continued to improve, with total employment growth more than doubling in this period, said the Ministry of Manpower. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - Fewer people were laid off in the third quarter of this year, while overall unemployment crept up slightly, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics released on Friday (Oct 26).

But as a whole, the labour market continued to improve, with total employment growth more than doubling in this period, said the ministry.

There were 2,500 retrenchments over the past three months, fewer than the 3,030 in the three months before that, preliminary figures show. Layoffs in services and manufacturing made up most of the retrenchments in the third quarter.

"With restructuring, retrenchments can be expected to fluctuate," said the MOM. "However, we note that overall, for the first three quarters of 2018, retrenchments were lower than the corresponding periods in the preceding two years."

Unemployment held relatively steady as well, with the seasonally adjusted rate among residents unchanged at 2.9 per cent, and that of citizens remaining the same too, at 3 per cent.

The overall unemployment figure, though, edged up from 2 per cent to 2.1 per cent. The MOM said these rates remained either similar or slightly lower than rates in the same period a year ago.

As of last month, an estimated 67,000 residents were unemployed, slightly higher than the 66,600 in June. Similarly, about 59,100 citizens were out of job, a slight rise from 59,000.

"Given the growth in employment, the slightly elevated unemployment rates reflected the continued inflow of jobseekers into the labour market," said the MOM.

OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling said that with the tight domestic labour market, it is unlikely that overall unemployment will climb much further, barring a sharp downturn in 2019.

She noted that growth in the first three quarters of the year has been very resilient, adding: "Consumer and business sentiments have softened amid the growing headwinds, namely the US-China trade war and rising US interest rates, but have not deteriorated that significantly.

"The key question is whether a prolonged trade war will continue to weigh on trade and growth in 2019."

In such a scenario, she said, businesses may delay or cancel hiring plans, while consumers may tighten spending.

Meanwhile, total employment growth, excluding foreign domestic worker numbers, was 15,200, up from 6,500 previously.

This expansion was broad-based, with increases seen across various sectors including manufacturing, where the rise comes after 15 consecutive quarters of decline.

The services industry also logged gains such as in professional services, information and communications, and financial and insurance.

Although employment in construction continued to decline, this took place at a slower pace, said the MOM.

The construction gross domestic product contracted by 3.1 per cent compared with a year ago in the third quarter of 2018, extending the 4.2 per cent dip from the previous quarter. The industry was affected by weakness in public sector construction activities.

On Friday, the MOM said there was continued improvement in Singapore's labour market outlook, highlighting job opportunities available in sectors such as infocommunications and media, finance and insurance, healthcare and professional services.

But it also sounded a cautionary note, adding that "as the labour market begins to tighten, employers may face greater challenges filling vacancies".

Given "ongoing economic restructuring and the changing demand for jobs and skills", it urged workers and businesses to remain responsive to the market, adding that the Government will do its part as well.

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