More locals find jobs, but labour market still weak

2.34m Singaporeans and PRs employed last month, compared with 2.29m in June

Around 2.34 million Singaporeans and permanent residents were employed in September. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The number of locals employed in Singapore rebounded to almost pre-Covid-19 levels in the period between July and September, but the labour market is not out of the woods yet, with retrenchments and unemployment rates continuing to rise.

The economy still shed jobs during this period, though not as many as in the previous quarter.

Around 2.34 million Singaporeans and permanent residents were employed last month, compared with 2.29 million in June, preliminary data released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed yesterday.

This was almost on a par with resident employment levels before the coronavirus pandemic, as about 2.36 million locals were employed in December last year.

But the overall labour market remains uncertain.

Total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers, continued to decline in the period between July and September.

Some 26,900 workers were shed, largely because the number of non-residents employed here continued to fall. This marked a relative return to stability, compared with the previous quarter, when 103,800 workers were shed. Overall, since the start of the year, the ranks of those in employment have shrunk by 156,400.

In addition, the resident unemployment rate continued to rise, coming in at 4.7 per cent last month, compared with 4.6 per cent in August. The unemployment rate for Singaporeans was 4.9 per cent last month, rising from 4.7 per cent the previous month.

There were 112,500 unemployed residents last month, of whom 97,700 were Singaporeans.

MOM noted that unemployment rates last month were comparable to previous recessionary highs during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, but remained below the peak during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003.

But DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah highlighted that while the unemployment rates are similar to those seen during the global financial crisis, the fiscal conditions are very different, especially with Singapore having rolled out more than $100 billion of fiscal stimulus this year, with initiatives like the Jobs Support Scheme targeted at protecting jobs.

Meanwhile, retrenchments also rose further in the third quarter. A total of 9,100 workers were laid off, compared with 8,130 in the previous three-month period.

This was higher than retrenchment numbers at the peak of previous recessions, except for the first quarter of 2009 during the global financial crisis. A total of 12,760 workers were cut that quarter.

Layoffs are expected to increase in the manufacturing and services sectors, and primarily in the air transport as well as arts, entertainment and recreation industries for the third quarter, MOM said.

Nonetheless, the estimates suggest nascent signs of an improvement in the labour market in the third quarter, the ministry noted.

Despite overall declines, there was a slowdown in the contraction of total employment rates.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, while cautious about the prospects for the job market, said that she was "quietly relieved" by the estimates.

"The ship has stabilised, but we need to put in the effort to keep sailing towards the destination... which is to sustain local employment to where it was previously. That is something that we should have to work very hard towards."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2020, with the headline More locals find jobs, but labour market still weak. Subscribe