Singapore Ministry of Manpower: Two in three retrenched residents got new job in Q1 in return to pre-Covid levels, but recovery ‘not a straight road’

Singapore’s labour market is showing more signs that it is on the mend, but the road ahead is still uncertain, the Ministry of Manpower said on June 17, 2021. — TODAY pic
Singapore’s labour market is showing more signs that it is on the mend, but the road ahead is still uncertain, the Ministry of Manpower said on June 17, 2021. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, June 17 — For the second straight quarter, about two in three retrenched residents picked up a new job in the January-to-March period, bringing this rate to levels last seen in 2018 and 2019, data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed.

This upbeat finding from MOM’s latest labour market report was just one of several indicators that Singapore’s employment market is on the mend. However, the ministry’s permanent secretary Aubeck Kam noted that Singapore is still not fully back to pre-Covid conditions.

“We expect uncertainties in the economy to continue to weigh on the pace of recovery,” Kam said during a virtual media presentation yesterday on the Labour Market Report for the first quarter of this year.

The report, released to the public this morning, showed that the rate of re-entry of retrenched residents into employment was 66 per cent, or about two in three — up a marginal 1.7 percentage points from the previous quarter.

For comparison, the rate of re-entry previously seen was:

  • 4Q, 2019: 65.9 per cent
  • 1Q, 2020: 64 per cent
  • 2Q, 2020: 58.4 per cent
  • 3Q, 2020: 57 per cent
  • 4Q, 2020: 64.3 per cent

The report also found that job opportunities had improved, with almost one vacancy for every unemployed person.

The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons improved to 0.96 for every unemployed person in March this year, an increase from a ratio of 0.75 seen last December.

MOM said that the latest ratio was within the range observed during 2018 to 2019.

That pre-Covid period saw the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons ranging from 0.82 to 1.09.

Kam said that the findings from the final report have confirmed MOM’s assessment when it released its advanced labour market report in April, and that “nothing has changed from the picture” painted then. 

Here are some of the other key figures in the latest report:

  • Excluding migrant domestic workers, total employment for the quarter grew by 12,200 — a sharp increase from April’s estimate of 4,800
  • Resident employment continued to increase (+23,000), which outpaced the decline in non-resident employment (-11,500)
  • The jobless rate for citizens saw a slight dip from 4.2 per cent in March to 4.1 per cent in April, while the rate for residents fell from 4 per cent to 3.9 per cent
  • The number of retrenchments have declined for the second consecutive quarter to 2,270 — slightly higher than April’s estimate of 2,100.
  • The number of retrenchments peaked in the third quarter of last year at 9,120

The ministry said that there were fewer retrenchments across the various sectors. More than half of the job losses in the first quarter were due to restructuring and reorganisation.

Retrenchments due to recession or downturn in industry made up a smaller proportion compared to the previous quarter, MOM said.

‘Path to recovery not straight’

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, who also spoke to the media virtually on Tuesday on the sidelines of his visit to Procter and Gamble’s innovation centre along Biopolis Street, described the findings in the report as “good signs”.

“However, our path to recovery will not be a straight road. We will be met with some twists and potential roadblocks,” Dr Tan said.

“Last month’s tightened measures in the heightened alert phase is expected to lead to some kinks. Recovery is also expected to be more uneven across sectors than earlier expected.” 

Dr Tan, who is also the Second Minister for Trade and Industry, took over the manpower portfolio from his predecessor, Mrs Josephine Teo, on May 15. She now helms the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Responding to a question about whether there might be a potential mismatch between job vacancies, in areas such as construction, and unemployed persons who may not have the relevant skills, Dr Tan said that there will always be some mismatch in every economy.

Still, records from the past six months have shown that citizens who have lost their jobs have been able to re-enter the workforce within a period of half a year, he added.

He would not be too concerned, but said: “We are not out of the woods, so this is one area I will continue to focus on.”

During the presentation, Kam described the decline in foreign employment as cyclical, not structural, and that he expects the number of foreign workers to grow at some point when borders reopen.

“The prolonged decline is really a function of the border restrictions and will not be representative of the demands of the different sectors,” he said.

Referencing this statement, a question was posed to Dr Tan about when Singapore’s borders can be reopened so that companies who have the demand will be able to hire these foreign workers.

Dr Tan replied that there was no easy answer. He said that MOM has been monitoring the source countries of employment and how they handle successive waves of Covid-19 outbreaks.

“If that country exports the most talent (to Singapore) and there are reported incidences (of Covid-19) that are very high, then, obviously, the members of those countries have to be throttled down,” he said.

“We have our primary responsibility of protecting all of us here, and we have to ensure that our healthcare facilities will never get overwhelmed,” Dr Tan said.

“When the healthcare facilities get overwhelmed... the death rates go up.”

With this in mind, Dr Tan, who is a veteran medical practitioner and entrepreneur, encourages people who are eligible to get vaccinated when the opportunity to do so is offered to them.

He explained that once Singapore achieves a high herd immunity by reaching a vaccination level of 80 per cent, the country could look at opening up.

“I hope that that will be soon. We have a... timeline in terms of how we want to ramp up the vaccinations, but because it is a voluntary offer to all our residents, we still need them to come forward to get vaccinated.” — TODAY

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