Retrenchments hit smaller proportion of workers in S'pore, but more than doubled from last year

SINGAPORE – A smaller proportion of workers was retrenched last year amid the economic upheavals caused by the pandemic compared with previous recessionary years.

However, the total number of workers who lost their jobs surpassed figures not seen since the dot.com bust in 2001 and the Asian financial crisis in 1998, when more workers were laid off and the labour force was smaller.

There were 26,110 retrenchments last year, more than double the 10,690 workers laid off in 2019.

Figures released by the Manpower Ministry on Tuesday (March 16) showed 12.8 workers were retrenched per 1,000 employees, lower than the average 22.5 workers per 1,000 employees in past recessionary years.

Foreigners were more likely to be let go than Singaporeans or permanent residents, at 15.7 workers retrenched per 1,000 non-resident employees compared with 11.1 retrenched per 1,000 resident employees.

The services sector was the hardest hit, with 76 per cent or 19,760 of all retrenched workers coming from the sector.

This includes workers in wholesale trade; arts, entertainment and recreation; as well as air transport.

Clerical, sales and service workers were most prone to retrenchment last year, as these jobs were commonly found in industries harder hit by the pandemic, such as retail and food services.

Older residents in their 50s were also more likely to be retrenched compared with those in other age groups.

Singaporean and permanent resident women were also more prone to retrenchment last year compared with their male counterparts. This was because more women are in industries that were harder hit by Covid-19, such as the arts, entertainment and recreation as well as the retail trade, said MOM.

Retrenched resident workers took a longer time to find jobs last year, with 62 per cent becoming employed within six months of their retrenchment compared with 64 per cent in 2019.

During the global financial crisis in 2009, the re-entry rate was 65 per cent.

The majority of residents, or 67 per cent, who managed to re-enter employment switched industries, with a higher proportion taking up jobs in administrative and support services.

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This suggests that many took up temporary roles, said MOM.

When retrenched, those who previously worked in professional services, construction and real estate services were most likely to switch industries.

In the fourth quarter of 2020, job vacancies rose for the second consecutive quarter to reach 56,500 openings in December.

They include professional, managerial, executive and technician (PMET) roles in public administration and education, information and communications, and health and social services, as well as non-PMET roles in manufacturing and construction.

As a result, the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons improved in the last quarter of 2020, from 0.63 the previous period to 0.77.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the ratio is “not back to where we would like it to be”, and more will be done to shore up demand for local hiring.

“We would certainly hope that with the economy reopening, and with more businesses gaining momentum as they recover, that number will continue to go up,” she added. 

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