SINGAPORE - Amid ongoing economic restructuring, the labour market showed further signs of recovery in the third quarter of this year, with a lower overall unemployment rate and no increase in retrenchments.
The unemployment rate was 2.1 per cent in September after accounting for seasonal variations, down slightly from 2.2 per cent in June, preliminary data released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Friday (Oct 27) shows.
For Singaporeans, the rate was 3.2 per cent last month (Sep), down from 3.3 per cent in June and 3.5 per cent in March.
For residents - or Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents combined - the latest rate was 3.1 per cent, unchanged from June but down from 3.2 per cent in March.
The elevated levels of job losses of 2016 appear to have abated.
Retrenchments in the third quarter - from July to September - remained at about the same level as in the previous quarter, coming down marginally to 3,600, from 3,640. The decline was due to fewer layoffs in the manufacturing sector, while there were more layoffs in services and construction.
The figure does not include the 130 retrenchments at Singapore Press Holdings this month, which fall under the fourth quarter tally.
In a statement, MOM cautioned that the unemployment rate for residents may be difficult to reduce further in the medium term due to on-going economic restructuring and a mismatch between jobs available and workers' skills, for example.
"Companies undergoing restructuring are also urged to prepare at-risk workers for new roles in the firm, so as to reduce the need for retrenchments," added the ministry.
In all, the economy employed fewer workers at the end of the third quarter, with total employment excluding maids falling by 2,500 - the third consecutive quarter of decline. However, the contraction was smaller than those of the previous two quarters.
Since the end of last year, the economy has shed 19,800 workers, which the MOM attributes mainly to a decrease in work permit holders in the marine and construction sectors due to low oil prices and less construction activity. The services sector continues to add workers.
Total employment was 3,658,300 as of September.
MOM highlighted job opportunities in five priority sectors: infocomms and media, finance and insurance, healthcare, professional services and wholesale trade.
More job support is being developed for these areas, such as professional conversion programmes to help mid-career workers gain skills for new jobs. The ministry said more than 1,500 people have used such programmes in all sectors in the first half of this year.
National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay called the lower unemployment rates "encouraging", and said he expects the total number of layoffs this year to be lower than last year.
"Notwithstanding, we will continue to see pockets of layoffs in the last quarter due to ongoing restructuring, re-organisation and re-strategisation by companies and businesses faced with disruption, digitalisation and changing demand patterns including the oil prices," he said in a Facebook post.