Construction, F&B services in Singapore see biggest employment declines in Q2

The retail trade industry shed 8,000 workers, while food and beverage services saw a plunge of 22,900. The construction sector also saw one of the largest declines in employment, by 13,600 workers.
The retail trade industry shed 8,000 workers, while food and beverage services saw a plunge of 22,900. The construction sector also saw one of the largest declines in employment, by 13,600 workers.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses and workers hard, with those in the consumer-facing and tourism-related sectors bearing the brunt of the hit, as well as those affected by temporary work stoppages.

These sectors include manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food services, and arts, entertainment and recreation, according to the labour market report for the second quarter out yesterday.

They were also the most affected by the circuit breaker and safe distancing measures, the report noted.

The construction sector saw one of the largest declines in employment, by 13,600 workers, while food and beverage services saw a plunge of 22,900.

The retail trade industry shed 8,000 workers while the arts, entertainment and recreation sector saw employment fall by 7,600.

Administrative and support services also saw worker numbers fall by 7,600, while the outwardoriented wholesale trade sector lost 7,900 workers as weak external demand weighed on employment.

There were also 8,900 fewer workers in manufacturing, which saw declines in all sub-sectors except electronics.

On the other hand, sectors that were considered essential services or where remote work was more likely were less affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, the information and communications sector lost only 700 workers in the second quarter. Financial and insurance services also saw a drop of 700 workers, while health and social services shed 1,400 people.

Employment even increased by 1,000 in electronics manufacturing.

Indeed, rather than shedding workers, insurer Great Eastern hired more than 200 new joiners in corporate roles from January to last month. It also hired more than 500 financial representatives from April to the end of last month.

 
 
 

But on the other end of the spectrum, workers at construction firms had their labour halted, especially during the circuit breaker months.

Straits Construction executive director Kenneth Loo said some staff were put on forms of compulsory leave. Other firms also cut workers' pay.

"We were mindful of government support but it did not cover the full extent of our exposure to the blow. There was virtually no revenue for the sector," he added.

In terms of foreign employment, the decline was sharper than local decreases in sectors such as manufacturing and construction.

However, the decline in local employment was higher than for their foreign counterparts in services, led by cutbacks in accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail trade, and arts, entertainment and recreation.

But when adjusted in relation to the size of the workforce, the local rate of decline in services was much lower than that for foreigners.

The rise in retrenchment over the quarter also hit outward-oriented sectors such as wholesale trade more, with an increase also seen in manufacturing, particularly in transport equipment and financial services.

 
 
 

The report noted that those laid off in manufacturing were mostly professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). But retrenchments in financial services and wholesale trade affected non-PMETs more.

There were also sharp increases in short work weeks and temporary layoff arrangements, especially in construction, manufacturing and services. This reflected reduced visitor arrivals and domestic consumption, the report said.

These arrangements largely affected production and related workers, who were placed on temporary layoffs following the closure of workplaces during the circuit breaker. Some PMETs and clerical, sales and service workers were also made to work shorter hours instead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2020, with the headline 'Construction, F&B services see biggest employment declines'. Subscribe