A gloomy picture emerged yesterday of the labour market as the effects of economic restructuring continue to bite.
The number of people holding jobs in the first six months of the year fell for the first time since the 2009 recession.
A breakdown shows the number of locals in jobs dipped while foreign employment rose, though at a slowing pace, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) data.
Labour productivity also declined in the manufacturing, construction and service sectors, with the overall figure staying below zero since a year ago.
Experts said the employment situation could deteriorate further.
"There is a good chance it will get worse, given the risks in the external environment," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.
From January to June, total employment here saw a net fall of 1,000 workers, excluding maids, weighed down by the manufacturing sector, which shed 11,300 workers. Over the same period last year, total employment grew by 52,200.
The decline this year was led by an 8,900 drop in the number of Singaporeans and permanent residents in jobs, largely due to casual workers below the age of 25 leaving the workforce after having taken up jobs in the second half of last year, said the MOM.
Excluding maids, foreign employment growth slowed to 8,000, the lowest half-yearly growth since the 2009 recession, bringing the total number of people working in Singapore to 3,627,500 as of June.
Many of the additional workers could be in lower-skilled jobs which Singaporeans shun, said Mr Seah.
Unemployment crept up to a rate of 2.9 per cent for Singapore citizens and 2 per cent overall in June, up from 2.6 per cent and 1.8 per cent in March, after accounting for seasonal variations.
Still, there are two bright spots. Job vacancies continued to outnumber job seekers and fewer workers were laid off in the second quarter than in the first three months.
Also, Singaporeans are earning more due to the tight labour market. Real median gross monthly income for full-time employed Singaporeans grew last year by 1.4 per cent, though this was lower than the 4.7 per cent growth in 2013.
Economists said slowing employment growth is not cause for alarm.
Since unemployment rates remain stable, "we have to be careful not to see static employment numbers as a sign of a bad economy", said SIM University labour economist Walter Theseira.
The MOM warned that overall productivity growth is unlikely to rise significantly this year. "As the economy restructures, some consolidation and exit of less-productive businesses is also expected," it said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said real median incomes for full-time employed Singaporeans grew last year by 1.4 per cent, though this was lower than the 4.6 per cent growth in 2013. The latter should have been 4.7 per cent. We are sorry for the error.