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Statement on Labour Market Developments in 1H 2020

Introduction

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the labour market. The fall in total employment was the sharpest on record, and retrenchments doubled from pre-crisis levels. However, Government support measures and cost-saving measures adopted by firms may have cushioned the overall impact on jobs. The number of employees placed on short work-week or temporary layoff rose to an unprecedented high, and average paid hours worked declined. These helped to curb the rise in unemployment rates which remained below previous recessionary peaks. Hiring sentiments remained muted as overall job vacancies fell and re-entry rate among retrenched residents slowed.

    Review of the labour market in 1H 2020
  2. Total employment (excluding Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW)) contracted by 129,100 in the first half of 2020 (1H 2020), the largest half-yearly reduction on record. Foreign employment fell by 5.7% (-66,400), sharper than the 2.7% (-62,700) decline in local employment. Foreign cutbacks were also more widespread across sectors. This was reflected in the Employment Diffusion Index, a measure of the breadth of employment change across industries, which was higher for locals (38.4) than foreigners (16.8).
  3. Foreign employment cuts in 1H 2020 were mostly among Work Permit & Other Work Passes (WP+: -51,100), followed by S Pass (-11,200) and EP (-4,100). Excluding WPH from Construction, Marine Shipyard and Process, the decline in WP+ was -32,900 in 1H 2020.

    Figure 1 - Half-yearly employment change by residential status
  4. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rates rose over the quarter in June 2020 (Overall: from 2.4% to 2.8%; Resident: from 3.3% to 3.8%; Citizen: from 3.5% to 4.0%), but remained below previous recessionary peaks.
  5. The increase in resident unemployment rate over the quarter was driven by an increase in the number of short-term unemployed, as the seasonally adjusted resident long-term unemployment rate dipped in June 2020 (from 0.9% to 0.8%).
  6. Retrenchments rose sharply to 11,350 in 1H 2020. This was higher than during the SARS period (1H 2003: 10,120), but lower than other past recessionary peaks.In addition, with the temporary stoppage or curtailment in business activities during Circuit Breaker, another 81,720 employees were placed on short work-week or temporary layoff in 2Q 2020. This likely reduced the number of retrenchments.
  7. The six-month re-entry rate among retrenched residents declined to an all-time low in 2Q 2020 (58%).
  8. Average weekly total paid hours of work declined by 1.0 hour to 43.4 hours in June 2020. Significantly more workers experienced a cutback in overtime hours, though they were still a minority in the workforce. This comes amid temporary work stoppages and closure of physical workplaces during Circuit Breaker.
  9. Fewer job vacancies (from 46,300 in March 2020 to 42,400 in June 2020, seasonally adjusted) and more unemployed persons continued to weigh down the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons (0.57 in June 2020), though it stayed above the lows of past recessions. However, job vacancies rose in Financial Services, Wholesale Trade, Food & Beverage Services, Administrative & Support Services and Public Administration and Education.

    Labour market outlook
  10. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has projected that Singapore’s GDP growth for 2020 would come in at “-7.0 to -5.0%”. There also remain significant uncertainties in the global economy, including the risk of major resurgence in COVID-19 infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the labour market, particularly in 2Q 2020. Continued uncertainties in the global economy as well as subdued external demand will weigh on the labour market in 2H 2020. Hence, softness in the labour market is likely to persist with continued weakness in hiring and pressure on companies to retrench.
  11. However, there are several areas of strength in the Singapore economy. For example, the Electronics and Precision Engineering clusters are likely to expand, driven by sustained global demand for semiconductors and semiconductor equipment. The Biomedical Manufacturing cluster is also expected to grow, supported by the production of pharmaceutical and biological products. Likewise, the Information & Communications sector is projected to expand this year on the back of continued demand for IT and digital solutions, while growth in the Finance & Insurance sector will be supported in part by the strong demand for digital payment processing services. Job vacancies also rose in several sectors.

    Conclusion
  12. The Government continues to monitor the labour market closely and has put in place significant measures over four Budgets to support workers and help businesses to retain their employees. It has also recently announced an extension of some of these measures (e.g. Jobs Support Scheme) and other new measures to alleviate the extended economic impact of COVID-19. Close to $100 billion has been dedicated to help Singaporeans through the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. While the outlook for the Singapore economy has weakened further since March, the measures may have helped to cushion the overall impact of COVID-19 on the labour market, as unemployment rates remained lower than in previous recessionary perks.
  13. The National Jobs Council (NJC) is spearheading efforts by Government and business leaders to provide 100,000 jobs and skills opportunities through the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package. The Government has brought forward its hiring in the public service and publicly-funded institutions, as well as expanded the capacity of career conversion programmes to help mid-career individuals to reskill for new jobs. Many employers have stepped forward to offer opportunities in terms of jobs, traineeships and enterprise attachments. For jobseekers who are unable to secure a job, traineeships and attachments allow them to gain industry-relevant skills and experience, and be better positioned for economic recovery. We encourage jobseekers to be flexible and open to new opportunities in different sectors.
  14. To support the efforts by the various economic agencies working together with industry to create good jobs for locals, the Government has also set aside $1 billion for the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) scheme to support businesses to expand and bring forward hiring plans. The JGI will provide substantial salary support to employers that increase their local workforce over the next six months (i.e. from Sep 2020 to Feb 2021), with a higher level of support for new mature hires.
  15. Workforce Singapore (WSG) and its partners have intensified efforts to help locals in their job search. This includes setting up 24 SGUnited Jobs & Skills Centres across all HDB towns, growing a pool of Career Advisors to complement WSG’s team of full-time career coaches, and enhancing digital career matching services to reach out to more jobseekers.
  16. The Government is fully committed to walk the journey with our businesses and jobseekers, so that we can emerge stronger from the crisis. For more information on WSG’s programmes and career advisory and matching services, jobseekers are encouraged to visit www.mycareersfuture.gov.sg/careercoaching or call WSG’s hotline at 6883 5885. For more information on the Job Growth Incentive, please visit www.iras.gov.sg/irashome/Schemes/Businesses/Jobs-Growth-Incentive--JGI-/.

    For more information
  17. The “Labour Market Report Second Quarter 2020” is released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department, Ministry of Manpower. The report and technical notes on the various indicators are available at https://stats.mom.gov.sg.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Data are from the Labour Market Report Second Quarter 2020, Manpower Research & Statistics Department, MOM.
  2. This was revised from the preliminary estimate of -147,500 reported in the Labour Market Advance Release (LMAR) Second Quarter 2020.
  3. The EDI provides an indication of the breadth of employment change across 203 component industries, and ranges from 0 to 100. The further away this index is from the mid-point of “50” (either above or below), the more widespread these employment expansions and contractions.
  4. This refers to WPH employed as Process Maintenance and Construction Worker-cum-Driver. They possess niche skills and expertise required in the construction and maintenance of the production units in plants that manufacture petroleum, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals and pharmaceutical products.
  5. The overall and resident unemployment rates were revised downwards from the preliminary estimate of 2.9% and 3.9% reported in the LMAR 2Q 2020.
  6. “Residents” refer to Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents.
  7. This was revised upwards from the preliminary estimate of 9,920 reported in the LMAR 2Q 2020.
  8. The Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), which was launched at the start of the pandemic to help companies to retain jobs by covering the salary of workers, will be extended by up to seven months, covering wages paid up to March 2021. The support given will vary based on the sectors, with hardest-hit sectors like Aerospace, Aviation and Tourism receiving more.