Singapore's unemployment rate dipped in Nov for first time in 2020

Josephine Teo says figures are a relief but it is too early to say if job market is recovering

The unemployment rate among citizens improved from 4.9 per cent in October to 4.7 per cent in November. PHOTO: ST FILE

The unemployment rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents dipped slightly last November compared with the previous month, the first drop in 2020, figures from the Ministry of Manpower showed yesterday.

The monthly resident unemployment rate for November was 4.6 per cent, an improvement from 4.8 per cent in October. The rate among citizens also improved slightly, from 4.9 per cent in October to 4.7 per cent in November.

Overall, the unemployment rate was 3.3 per cent in November, compared with 3.6 per cent the previous month.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who was visiting the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) in Jurong East yesterday, said that while the figures are a relief, it is still too early to say whether the job market is out of the woods. She cautioned against looking at the situation through a single statistic.

"Those who follow the jobs situation reports will know that I have always cautioned about the need to look at labour market statistics holistically. Unemployment rate is only one dimension. We should also look at employment levels to know if our workforce participation has expanded or contracted," she said.

Mrs Teo added that the release of employment, unemployment and redundancy figures for the fourth quarter of last year later this month will bring a fuller picture of the labour market situation.

She said the Government will remain cautious, as recovery of the labour market is expected to be bumpy, unlike previous crises, and the pandemic continues to rage, with a resurgence in some countries and the emergence of a new strain.

The Covid-19 pandemic is also expected to have long-lasting effects on businesses, putting pressure on workers to continue to upgrade their skills, she said.

Mrs Teo also thanked tripartite partners National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation for their efforts in maintai-ning a strong proportion of locals in the workforce.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, who was also at e2i, said the 10,000 employers who are part of the NTUC Job Security Council played an important role in job-matching efforts. "Up to now, we have secured 28,000 successful job matches across all industries."

"While this is just a number, importantly, behind all these are the men and women in NTUC, in e2i, doing all the different work in job support, in job matching and... job training as well," he added.

"All the ecosystems that we have built up in these nine months are due to the very dedicated, hard work of union leaders on the ground, staff at NTUC, our government colleagues and employers that are willing to step forward."

Mr Ng said NTUC will continue to support workers to face labour challenges this year.

Commenting on the latest figures, OCBC Bank's chief economist Selena Ling said the labour market is beginning to stabilise. "This could potentially signify that the unemployment rate peaked in October and should gradually start to ease in the coming months," said Ms Ling, who is head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank.

But she added that the rate will likely remain elevated this year with digital disruption, and the re-opening of borders expected to take some time.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2021, with the headline Singapore's unemployment rate dipped in Nov for first time in 2020. Subscribe