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Labour Market Advance Release First Quarter 2020


  1. Preliminary estimates released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reflect the early impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. In 1Q 2020, total employment (excluding foreign domestic workers or FDWs) registered its sharpest quarterly contraction since SARS, due to a significant decline in foreign employment.Unemployment rates rose in March 2020 but remained lower than the peak during SARS.Similarly, retrenchments in 1Q 2020 were about one-quarter that of the quarterly peak seen in the Global Financial Crisis.

    Main Findings1                                                           

    Total employment contracted sharply in 1Q 2020 due to a significant decline in foreign employment

  2. In 1Q 2020, total employment (excluding FDWs) registered its sharpest quarterly contraction since SARS2. The contraction of 19,900 was due to a significant reduction in foreign employment.

  3. The employment contractions were observed broadly across Manufacturing, Construction and Services. Services experienced the sharpest decline, as consumer-facing food & beverage services and retail trade, and tourism-dependent accommodation were most severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

  4. In spite of difficulties since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and seasonal influences, local employment managed to grow at a modest pace. Contractions in wholesale & retail trade, food & beverage services and accommodation were offset by increases in healthcare, public administration and professional services. However, workers who remain in employment may have experienced reductions in working hours or adjustments in their salaries.

    Unemployment rates continued to rise in March 2020

  5. Unemployment rates rose over the quarter in March 2020 (overall: from 2.3% to 2.4%; resident: from 3.2% to 3.3%; citizen: from 3.3% to 3.5%). For now, they remain lower than the highs seen during SARS3 and the Global Financial Crisis4

    Retrenchments rose in 1Q 2020 but remain lower than previous downturn highs

  6. Overall retrenchments in 1Q 2020 (3,000) were higher than the previous quarter (2,670). For now, they remain significantly lower than the quarterly peak during the Global Financial Crisis (1Q 2009: 12,760). With jobs and wage support measures announced in Budgets, and companies encouraged to retain workers and retrench only as a last resort, layoffs did not see a sharp increase in this first quarter.

  7. Services saw an increase in retrenchments, mainly in consumer-facing retail trade and food & beverage services as domestic consumption fell when safe distancing measures kicked in. Tourism-dependent accommodation also experienced more retrenchments, amid a drop in visitor arrivals. The number of retrenchments remained similar in Manufacturing and Construction.

    Government and Tripartite Measures to help Workers and Businesses

  8. Globally, COVID-19 and protection measures to contain the pandemic have severely disrupted economic activity.Similar to the experience of many countries, Singapore’s total employment contracted significantly on the account of a fall in foreign employment, and unemployment rates rose.For now, unemployment rates and retrenchments remain lower than in previous downturns. Budget relief measures to support workers and businesses may have helped to cushion the overall impact, especially on local jobs.However, labour market conditions are likely to worsen in the upcoming quarter, given the sharp fall in demand globally as well as in Singapore as firms adjust to circuit breaker measures.

  9. As the COVID-19 situation evolves, the Government has stepped up support to sustain businesses and protect livelihoods. To help workers keep their jobs and enable businesses to resume operations quickly when the Circuit Breaker is lifted, the Government is subsidising 75% of gross monthly wages, for the first $4,600 of wages paid in April and May 2020, for local employees in all sectors under the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme.5 For sectors directly affected by COVID-19, such as tourism, aviation, retail and food services, Workforce Singapore (WSG) has launched new programmes to help employers reskill and redeploy their workers to new jobs within their company. The duration of funding support for existing and new redeployment programmes in these sectors has been extended from three months to a maximum of six months.

  10. To help match jobseekers and affected workers with job opportunities, the Government has launched the SGUnited Jobs initiative.This initiative is a concerted effort by MOM and WSG, in collaboration with the Public Service Division and various government agencies, to create about 10,000 jobs over the next one year. These include roles in the Public Service, healthcare, early childhood care and education, and social services, as well as temporary jobs to handle the increase in COVID-19 related operations or to cope with disruptions in the labour supply. A series of SGUnited Jobs Virtual Career Fairs is being rolled out to make these jobs more accessible to jobseekers. From June 2020 onwards, recent and new graduates of the Institute of Technical Education, Polytechnics, universities and other educational institutions can look forward to more traineeship opportunities under the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, to develop industry-relevant skills and build professional networks amidst weaker hiring sentiments.

  11. Beyond the near-term challenges brought on by COVID-19, we should remain focused on keeping our workforce equipped with relevant skills as the economy transforms.MOM and WSG, together with tripartite partners, will enhance efforts to help individuals to reskill and access good jobs.Through the recently-launched SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package, the Government will provide additional support for mid-career workers in their 40s and 50s by helping them stay employable and take up new jobs or new careers.

    For More Information

  12. The report is available online on the Ministry of Manpower’s Research and Statistics Department website at


  1. 1Q 2020 data are preliminary
  2. Employment (excluding FDWs) contracted by 24,000 in 2Q 2003.
  3. Unemployment rates were 4.8%, 6.2% and 6.4% for overall, resident and citizens in September 2003
  4. Unemployment rates were 3.3%, 4.9% and 4.9% for overall, resident and citizens in September 2009
  5. The wage support for the other months will remain unchanged as previously announced, with higher wage support for the adversely affected food services, aviation, and tourism sectors beyond the circuit breaker period.