Retrenchments edge up in second quarter

Unemployment and retrenchment figures edged up in the second quarter of 2018, amid growing total employment. Mature workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians bore the brunt of the layoffs.
Unemployment and retrenchment figures edged up in the second quarter of 2018, amid growing total employment. Mature workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians bore the brunt of the layoffs. PHOTO: ST FILE

Unemployment also creeps up as signs of slowdown in labour market recovery appear

The number of workers retrenched in Singapore inched up in the second quarter of this year, despite the economy growing.

At the same time, the economic expansion has drawn more people to re-enter the job market.

The emerging signs of a slowdown in the recovery of the labour market appeared in the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) preliminary estimates released yesterday.

Manufacturing has been laying off more workers since the first quarter of this year.

In the continuing uptrend, the sectors shedding workers include oil and gas, transport engineering and construction materials, CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun told The Straits Times.

As for unemployment, the rise comes after a sustained decline since June last year. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month went up to 2.1 per cent, from 2 per cent in March.

The slight increase is the result of more people being lured back into the labour force on the back of the 3.6 per cent growth in Singapore's economy last year.

"While there may be more job opportunities, not everyone is equipped with the skill sets that employers are looking for in various industries," Mr Song noted.

For Singaporeans, last month's unemployment rate climbed to 3.1 per cent, from 3 per cent in March.

More people also lost their jobs in the second quarter this year, compared with the first three months.

After hitting a five-year low of 2,320 layoffs between January and March, retrenchments rose to 2,500 in the second quarter. A year ago, it was 3,640.

But overall, the economy hired more people in the second quarter.

Total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers, went up by 7,100, a sharp rise from the growth of 400 in the first quarter.

This was due to more hires in the service sector, said MOM.

The figures indicate that economic recovery is uneven across industries, said analysts.

Sectors like retail continue to struggle because of structural problems, said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

While the worst may be over for the oil and gas sector, more new projects are needed before hiring figures can go up, he added.

Looking ahead, Mr Song warned that the labour market may be hit by external headwinds in the light of trade tensions between the United States and China.

"The labour market recovery that we saw last year may falter if trade risks lead to real trade fights," he added.

Labour MP Patrick Tay, who is the National Trades Union Congress' assistant secretary-general, said retrenchment figures are expected to inch up in the next quarter owing to disruption and reorganisation of businesses.

Structural challenges, such as skill and job mismatches, continue to be one of the main causes of unemployment, he said in a Facebook post.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Retrenchments edge up in second quarter'. Print Edition | Subscribe