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Labour Market, 2008

In 2008, total employment increased by 221,600 or 8.1%, driven largely by strong gains in the first half of the year. This was lower than the increase of 234,900 or 9.4% in 2007. Amidst the weakening global economy, employment growth slowed significantly to 21,300 in the fourth quarter of 2008, less than half the gains of 55,700 in the third quarter of 2008 and 62,500 in the fourth quarter of 2007.

2.   The slowdown was felt across many industries, led by manufacturing which shed 7,000 workers in the fourth quarter of 2008 - its first contraction since the third quarter of 2003. Net job losses occurred mainly in electronic products (-3,400) and transport equipment (-2,700) while petrochemicals & pharmaceutical products still added workers (1,600). In the whole of 2008, the manufacturing workforce grew by 19,500, less than half the increase of 49,300 in 2007.

3.   Services employment grew by 136,400 in 2008, slightly lower than 143,100 in 2007. Growth slowed considerably in the fourth quarter of 2008 (17,300) from a year ago (38,500). The services gains were weighed down by losses in administrative & support services (-1,100) and transport & storage (-400) as well as sharply lower gains in financial services (300) and wholesale trade (400). However, selected industries such as restaurants (5,800), health & social services (1,300), architectural & engineering services (1,200) and education & public administration (800) continued to register similar or higher gains than a year ago.

4.   With brisk building activity, the construction workforce grew strongly by a record 64,000 in 2008, up from the gains of 40,400 in 2007. Growth also moderated to 10,700 in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with average quarterly gains of 17,800 in the preceding three quarters.

5.   Local employment grew by 64,700 or 3.5% in 2008, lower than the increase of 90,400 or 5.2% in 2007. Due to strong demand for workers earlier in the year, foreign employment grew by 156,900 (or 17%) in 2008, up from 144,500 (or 19%) in 2007. As the economic downturn deepened, employment growth slowed significantly for both locals and foreigners in the last quarter of the year. As at Dec 2008, there were 1,057,700 foreigners forming 36% of the 2.95 million persons employed in Singapore. The majority comprising 64% or 1,894,700 persons in the workforce were locals.

6.   With the economy weakening, the seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate rose to 2.5%1 in Dec 2008 from 2.2% in Sep 2008 and the decade-low of 1.7% a year ago. Among the resident labour force, the unemployment rate increased for the fourth consecutive quarter to 3.7% in Dec 2008 from 3.3% in Sep 2008 and 2.4% in Dec 2007. An estimated 69,900 residents were unemployed in Dec 2008. The seasonally adjusted figure was 73,200, up from 65,500 in Sep 2008 and 46,200 in Dec 2007.

7.   The softening of the labour market was generally broad-based. However, the number and share of degree holders among unemployed residents rose sharply from 6,200 and 14% in Dec 2007 to 14,800 and 21% in Dec 2008. Nevertheless, the below secondary educated formed the largest group of unemployed residents at 21,300 or 31%; many of them were 40 years or older, constituting 15,400 or 22% of all unemployed residents. Consequently, long term unemployment for locals at both ends of the education spectrum more than doubled over the year. As at Dec 2008, 12,900 of the unemployed residents had been looking for work for at least 25 weeks, up from 8,700 in Dec 2007. They formed 0.7% of the resident labour force, higher than 0.5% a year ago.

8.   Redundancies nearly tripled from 3,180 in the third quarter of 2008 to a record quarterly high of 9,410 workers in the fourth quarter of 20082. For the whole of 2008, a total of 16,880 workers were made redundant, comprising 13,920 workers retrenched and 2,970 workers whose contracts were terminated prematurely. More workers across all three broad occupational groups were made redundant in the fourth quarter of 2008, with professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) experiencing the largest increase over the quarter both in terms of absolute number and percentage (from 950 in the third quarter of 2008 to 3,790 in the fourth quarter of 2008). In the whole of 2008, 6,200 PMETs were made redundant forming 37% of the workers displaced, up from 31% in the year before. Correspondingly, the share of production & related workers displaced dropped from 56% to 52%, while clerical, sales & service workers fell from 13% to 11%.

9.   There were 26,100 job vacancies in Dec 2008, down by 27% from Sep 2008 and 30% from a year ago. Many industries reported fewer vacancies than a year ago. The major exception was community, social & personal services, supported by public sector hiring. Together with higher unemployment, the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons fell for the fourth straight quarter to 51 openings for every 100 job seekers in Dec 2008. This is comparable to the level in Dec 2005.

10.   Nominal earnings rose over the year by 2.4% in the fourth quarter of 2008, down from the growth of 5.5% in the preceding quarter. This brought earnings growth in 2008 to 5.4%, lower than 6.2% in 2007. After discounting for inflation (2008: 6.5%, 2007: 2.1%), real earnings declined by 1.1% in 2008, after rising by 4.0% in 2007.

11.   Dragged down by the contraction in output, labour productivity fell by 12% in the fourth quarter of 2008, deeper than the drop of 9.0% in the preceding quarter. In 2008, productivity slid by 7.8%, following the decline of 0.8% in 2007. This reflected slower GDP growth and strong employment gains in the first half of 2008.

For More Information

12.   The report is available online on the Ministry of Manpower's website.


1The overall unemployment rate for Dec 2008 is revised downwards from the preliminary estimate of 2.6% released in Jan 2009.  The rate for residents is unchanged.

2Data series on redundancies started from Q1 1998.