Labour market on road to recovery

Fewer workers lost jobs in first half of year and there are more openings

The labour market is seeing a dip in the unemployment rate and the long-term unemployment rate for residents from March to June. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Fewer workers in Singapore lost their jobs in the first half of the year, one of several signs that the labour market is on the mend.

The others are: A dip in the unemployment rate and the long-term unemployment rate for residents from March to June, as well as an increase in job openings.

Yet another is a rise in the number of residents at work in the first half of the year, a turnaround from falling local employment in the first half of both 2015 and last year.

The improved picture drawn from official figures released yesterday indicates that the hiring outlook is brightening, although demand for workers is uneven across sectors, analysts said.

Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin said: "The worst of the job market issues is probably behind us, and it looks like it is improving in line with economic growth recovery.''

Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures show that 3,640 workers were laid off in the second quarter of this year, a dip from the first quarter (4,000) and a year ago (4,800). Three in four retrenched residents were professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

For citizens, the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.3 per cent in June, better than 3.5 per cent in March. As for citizens and permanent residents combined, the rate improved a notch to 3.1 per cent, from 3.2 per cent. The overall rate, however, remained unchanged at 2.2 per cent during this period.

Still, the various rates are higher than a year ago, and MOM said unemployment and long-term unemployment for residents could remain elevated in the medium term.

The reasons are ongoing economic restructuring, the job-skills mismatch and shifts in the make- up of the resident labour force, it said.

Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of residents retrenched in the fourth quarter of last year were back at work in the second quarter of this year. But those aged 50 and older continued to face some difficulties. Their re-entry rate was 52 per cent.

For local residents, 4,000 more were employed in June than in December last year - the first time in three years local employment grew during those months, MOM said.

The spike was mostly in three sectors: community, social and personal services; finance and insurance services; and information and communication.

At the same time, Singapore employed fewer foreigners. The pool shrank by 21,400, excluding maids. Most who left Singapore were work permit holders.

Also, for the first time since June 2013, the number of Employment Pass holders fell. It slipped by 2,400 in June, down from last December's figure, MOM said.

Total employment thus stood at 3,659,000 as at June this year.

Labour productivity rose 2.8 per cent in the first half of the year, against the same period last year.

This was better than the 0.6 per cent growth in the first half of last year, and 1.3 per cent in the second half. Sectors which did well include manufacturing, transport and storage, and wholesale and retail trade.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said in a Facebook post that he hoped to see employers share the rewards with their staff.

For job seekers: There were 49,000 vacancies in June, up from 46,800 in March, after accounting for seasonal variations, said MOM.

This brought the preliminary seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people to 0.85 in June, up from 0.81 in March and a low of 0.77 in December last year.

MOM sees companies hiring more workers in the second half of the year to cope with seasonal demand and better growth.

NTUC's Mr Tay forecasts opportunities in finance, infocomm technology, healthcare and wholesale trade as well as engineering-manufacturing, a field which includes aerospace, precision engineering, energy and chemicals and electronics.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline Labour market on road to recovery. Subscribe