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Q1 employment falls by 8,500; jobless rate rises to 2.3%: MOM
SINGAPORE notched in the first quarter its biggest net job loss since the Sars-hit second quarter of 2003 - due mainly to a fall in work permit holders in the manufacturing and construction sectors, preliminary figures released on Friday by the Ministry of Manpower showed.
While the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for residents (Singaporeans and permanent residents) was flat at 3.2 per cent, the overall jobless rate defied market expectations - private-sector economists had expected no change - to creep up from 2.2 per cent in December 2016 to 2.3 per cent in March this year.
OCBC Bank chief economist Selena Ling noted that the latest jobless rate is the highest since the fourth quarter of the 2009 recession year, though it was still below the 3.3 per cent peak seen in the third quarter of 2009.
The ministry noted in its Labour Market Advance Release First Quarter 2017 report that the jobless rate had climbed in recent quarters, but it also indicated that the rate remained below the 2009-high (overall: 3.3 per cent; resident: 4.9 per cent; citizen: 4.9 per cent).
But Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say, in his May Day message issued also on Friday, noted that unemployment rose last year and said that it could continue to rise as the economy restructures.
Others were more upbeat. "This may not necessarily be the bottom of the labour market," said Femke Hellemons, country manager of recruitment firm Adecco Personnel (Singapore), "but we are optimistic because we have seen improving overall trade conditions of the economy, upward revisions in GDP growth forecast as well as more workforce requests from our clients."
Added Ms Ling: "The labour market outlook is likely to remain uneven across sectors and industries, but we tip (that) the overall unemployment rate should start to stabilise around the 2.5 per cent region later this year."
The ministry's report said that an estimated 74,400 residents, including 67,100 Singaporeans, were jobless, broadly similar to the number in December 2016.
Despite the decline in total employment, fewer workers were axed as the number of layoffs in the first quarter (4,800) was lower than in the fourth quarter of 2016 (5,440), though it was similar to the number a year ago (4,710). Redundancies fell in manufacturing but continued to jump in construction and services, which accounted for the bulk (63 per cent) of the layoffs.
Overall employment in the first quarter sank by 8,500 after growth of 2,300 in the previous quarter and 13,000 in the same quarter a year ago. The biggest drop (-12,900) was in the construction sector, where employment fell for a third straight quarter.
Employment in manufacturing slipped by 4,400 in the first quarter, its tenth consecutive quarterly decline. Ms Ling said that the attrition of jobs in manufacturing added up to 43,300 since the fourth quarter of 2014 - and manufacturing's share of total employment has fallen from 15.1 per cent to 13.5 per cent.
Services employment continued to increase (8,700) in the first quarter, but the rise was smaller than in the same quarter of 2016 (13,200).