More workers laid off amid economic restructuring

Highest rate since 2009; PMETs made up 51% of 12,930 who lost jobs last year

The ongoing restructuring of the economy continued to take its toll on the job market last year, displacing more workers, particularly higher-skilled ones.

A total of 12,930 people lost their jobs last year, up from 11,560 in 2013, and the highest since the recession in 2009.

Of these, professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up 51 per cent, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) report showed yesterday.

Older workers - in their 40s and above - made up 58 per cent of resident PMETs laid off.

Observers said measures such as the Fair Consideration Framework to reduce the reliance on foreign labour may explain in part the rise in redundancies.

Relatively speaking, more non-residents lost their jobs last year, while fewer Singapore citizens and permanent residents did, compared with 2013.

"Foreign manpower tightening in the past few years is essentially to encourage companies to cut headcount," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

While more workers were displaced, nearly seven in 10 residents who lost their jobs in the first nine months of last year managed to find new jobs by December.

But PMETs and degree-holders lagged behind; their rates of re-entry into employment were only 63 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively.

The job re-entry rate of the degree-holders slipped from the previous year, while all other educational groups saw improvements, "reflecting the strong competition for jobs among degree-holders", said MOM.

The majority of affected workers overall came from the service sector, which had employed 56 per cent of those who were asked to go.

Companies in the sector laid off more workers last year, and listed business restructuring for greater work efficiency as the top reason for letting staff go.

The construction sector continued to be plagued by poor business or business failure, reported companies, which led to more layoffs last year than in 2013.

But a bright spot was that the number of layoffs in the manufacturing sector fell by over 20 per cent, from 5,000 in 2013 to 3,970 last year.

Experts noted that PMETs' higher share of redundancies could be explained partly by the fact they made up about 53 per cent of the resident workforce.

"The numbers tally with the profile of the workforce, which shows that PMETs are equally if not more vulnerable to redundancies as rank-and-file workers," said labour Member of Parliament Patrick Tay.

Workers at higher ranks might find it harder to adjust to jobs in different industries, experts said.

OCBC economist Selena Ling noted that workers laid off from the professional services, information and communications, and manufacturing industries - which employ a sizeable group of PMETs - tended to switch industries when securing a new job.

"PMETs might be resistant to switching industries as their experience would be wasted, so being forced to change industry suggests that these industries are in a state of flux," she said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.