Singapore shed the most jobs in two decades. Its foreign workers who lost the most.

Many foreigners working in Singapore lost their jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled last year, according to latest statistics from the Manpower Ministry. 

Overall employment shrank the most it has in over two decades, largely due to jobs lost by foreign workers in construction and manufacturing, according to data released today. 

It was a less dim picture for citizens and permanent residents, whose losses recovered by the end of the year to ultimately add 15,000 workers to the rolls, a fact the ministry attributed to government relief measures. Retrenchment rates more than doubled.

The overall unemployment rate averaged 3% last year after peaking in September at 3.5%, up from 2.3% in 2019, the highest it’s been since 2009. January clocked in at 3.2%.

The number of retrenchments also increased to 26,110 in 2020, up significantly from 2019’s 10,690.

More than 180,000 foreign hires lost their work passes last year. A total of 26,000 people lost their S Pass, which are usually issued to mid-level staff earning at least S$2,500, and 16,700 lost their Employment Pass, which are usually issued to those earning at least S$4,500 a month. According to the report, Singapore shed 94,100 jobs held by foreigners in services, 52,800 in construction, and 34,200 in manufacturing. 

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said earlier this year that over S$25 billion (US$18.6 billion) was committed to the Job Support Scheme to subsidize wages in various sectors. Singaporeans who were able to keep their jobs during the pandemic were mainly those in public administration, education, health, social services, information and communications, and the financial sector, the Manpower Ministry said. Jobs in tourism, arts, and services were hard-hit by COVID-19 measures. 

Job vacancies crept up in the latter half of last year with 56,500 job openings in December. 

Professional, management, executive and technician roles as well as those in education, communication, health, manufacturing and construction, led in vacancies.

Annual employment figures from 1998 to 2020. Graphic: MOM
Annual employment figures from 1998 to 2020. Graphic: MOM


Annual unemployment rate from 1996 to 2021. Graphic: MOM
Annual unemployment rate from 1996 to 2021. Graphic: MOM

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