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Jobless rate inches up in S'pore amid tight labour market

Publication Date : 01-05-2014


The job scene here is off to a tepid start this year, with the highest jobless rate and lowest increase in new jobs filled since 2011.

While unemployment remained low at 2.1 per cent in the first quarter, this seasonally adjusted rate was up from 1.8 per cent in the previous quarter.

It was coupled with the slowest employment growth since mid-2011, with some 24,900 jobs added, according to preliminary figures released yesterday by the Manpower Ministry.

In the same period last year, the number of new jobs added was 28,900.

This worried some experts, especially as the uptick in unemployment came amid a tight labour market.

"You would expect employers to be grabbing people off the street," said labour economist Randolph Tan from SIM University. "This could be a reality check about the mismatch of workers' skills with those required by vacancies."

DBS economist Irvin Seah cautioned that "it's a bit premature to get jumpy about this", but added that unemployment and job growth should be monitored going forward as the local economy is transformed.

The unemployment rate for Singapore citizens was 3 per cent last quarter, up from 2.8 per cent, while that for residents - that is, Singapore citizens and permanent residents - was 2.9 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent.

In comparison, economists say the slowing job growth is less of an issue and comparable to last year after discounting the construction sector, which is often volatile because of project schedules.

The construction workforce slowed its growth to 4,000, down from 7,600 in the previous quarter and 8,400 last year.

Job growth continued to be driven by the service sector, which added 21,900 jobs, higher than the growth of 21,100 in the first quarter of last year. It was lower than the 31,800 jobs added in the previous three months, but the fourth quarter typically sees more people employed in the service sector due to the festive period. In contrast, the manufacturing sector lost 1,200 jobs last quarter, which was the case in the same period last year.

Economists pointed to poor output in industries like pharmaceuticals and electronics and the falling competitiveness of Singapore's exports as possible reasons for the loss.

But despite overall unemployment creeping up, fewer people lost their jobs last quarter. Some 2,900 workers were laid off, down from 3,660 affected in the preceding quarter.

Associate Professor Tan said more people could be joining the labour force without being in jobs yet, like fresh graduates.

Layoffs were higher compared with the 2,120 during the same period last year.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted that this was likely reflective of the ongoing economic restructuring and the uneven recovery of the global economy.


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