More layoffs expected this year

More layoffs are expected to happen in 2016.
More layoffs are expected to happen in 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

More layoffs are likely to come this year, though many firms are preparing to weather the economic slowdown by redeploying workers and reducing costs.

Layoffs climbed 20 per cent to 15,580 last year, while job vacancies fell, according to statistics released by the Manpower Ministry last Tuesday.

More than half the jobs lost were from the service sector, especially professional services, wholesale trade and financial services.

A third were in manufacturing and about 10 per cent in construction.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians also made up over 70 per cent of those made redundant.

Employers and business associations told The Straits Times that they expect the gloomy outlook to continue for the next year or two.

"For 2016, we expect redundancies to stay above 10,000, reflecting the more modest projected economic growth of 1 per cent to 3 per cent and continued restructuring," said Mr Koh Juan Kiat, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation.

He noted that jobs are still being created to absorb the excess manpower.

Singapore Retailers Association vice-president R. Dhinakaran said some retailers are closing less profitable outlets and may release some workers but, as far as possible, would redeploy them to other shops, as there is still a shortage of front-line staff.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said some businesses will face consolidation, but for the others it is crucial to press on with the productivity drive, so as to provide good jobs.

He added that he does not expect big retrenchments for now.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) president Thomas Chua also urged small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enhance their business models to draw more talent - including higher-skilled workers who have been retrenched - so as to become more competitive.

He added: "SCCCI hopes the Government will help SMEs in the transformation process, so that higher-skilled Singaporeans are attracted to join SMEs and be integrated into the workforce."

While keeping an eye on costs, some firms are also taking the opportunity to train their workers.

Rather than cutting staff, BN Logistics managing director Kenny Khor has tasked his 12 workers with learning one another's jobs when they have time.

Since January, for example, administrative staff have been shadowing purchasing staff, and warehouse workers now follow transport drivers out.

"When they understand other departments' problems, they can think about improving their own processes or helping each other solve problems. We can become more efficient," he said.

Meanwhile, some industries such as hospitality are still more worried about recruiting manpower than shedding it.

Mr Brenton Ong, human resource director for Concorde Hotel, said: "Hotels are already very lean because of the controls on foreign manpower.

"More hotels are still opening and they need people too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'More layoffs expected this year'. Subscribe