Singapore records sharpest fall ever in employment, ‘likely to worsen’

Singapore’s Robinson Road. Photo: Kevin Dellandrea
Singapore’s Robinson Road. Photo: Kevin Dellandrea

Singapore’s workforce shrank by a quarter during the first quarter of the year, the largest fall in recorded history, as unemployment hit a 10-year high.

As of March, Singapore had shed 25,600 jobs, excluding foreign domestic workers, a drop of 25.2% from the previous quarter largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manpower Ministry reported today. Overall unemployment rose from 2.3 to 2.4 percent. 

The contraction was pinned primarily on falling foreign employment, in addition to jobs lost and layoffs issued. There were also “significantly more” employees placed on reduced employment or temporarily laid off, as well as a decline in job vacancies during the same period. 

The ministry warned that while the labor market has not been as badly hit as it was by the 2003 SARS epidemic and 2008 financial crisis, the worst is yet to come despite “significant measures” taken to minimize the damage.

“These measures may have helped to cushion the overall impact, especially on local workers, as unemployment rates and retrenchments remain lower than in previous downturns,” the report read. “However, labour market conditions are likely to worsen in the upcoming quarter, given the sharp fall in hiring demand globally as well as in Singapore due to circuit breaker measures.”

Job vacancies declined to 46,300 in the first quarter, the lowest since September 2010, when there were 44,900. Declines over the quarter were most notable in food and beverage services as well as the arts, entertainment and recreation.

The overall unemployment rate in the first quarter rose from 2.3 to 2.4 percent. A total of 3,200 people were laid off, which was similar to the same period a year ago but lower than the 12,760 who lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2019.

A total of 2,670 employees were laid off since late 2019 largely due to sectoral downturn or poor business and another 4,190 employees either had their hours reduced or were placed on work furloughs, a fivefold increase over the previous quarter.

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