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Heightened alert measures had some impact on Singapore's labour market in Q2 2021

Heightened alert measures had some impact on Singapore's labour market in Q2 2021

Resident employment increased across sectors like information & communications, health & social services, and professional services, but declined in food & beverage services, as well as entertainment & recreation. 

On Wednesday (15 September 2021), Singapore's Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) released Labour Market Report Second Quarter 2021. Overall, resident employment grew more slowly, and non-resident employment declined more sharply in Q2 2021. 

Cumulatively, total employment fell by a significantly smaller number (-4,000) in the first half of 2021, compared to -129,500 and -37,000 respectively in the first and second half of 2020. Non-residents contributed to all the decline (-32,600) as resident employment rose by (28,500).

Further, there was a slight increase in retrenchments in Q2 2021 (2,340) compared to Q1 2021 (2,270). This level, however, stayed within the pre-pandemic quarterly range in 2018 and 2019.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rates continued to decline in June 2021 (overall: 2.7%; resident: 3.5%; citizen: 3.7%). Compared to March 2021, most age and education groups registered declines in their resident unemployment rates. The resident long-term unemployment rate also dipped to 0.9% in June 2021, from highs recorded in December 2020 and March 2021 (1.1%).

Looking at the labour market as a whole, its situation continues to be uneven across sectors. "This could be attributed to the tighter COVID-19 restrictions implemented in May that have temporarily affected demand for manpower in certain sectors," as explained in the report.

In numbers, there was an increase in the number of workers placed on temporary layoff or short work-week (from 4,020 in Q1 2021 to 5,580 in Q2 2021), particularly in food & beverage services. At the same time, ongoing border restrictions resulted in manpower shortages in sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

There was also sustained demand in growth sectors like financial & insurance services, professional services, and information & communications. As a result, the number of job vacancies rose to an all-time high of 92,100 in June 2021, from 68,400 in March 2021 (seasonally adjusted).


Total employment fell in Q2 2021 (-16,200 excluding migrant domestic workers, or MDW), after registering its first increase in five quarters in Q1 2021.

Growth in total employment was mixed across industries in Q2 2021. There were declines in construction (-5,100) and manufacturing (-4,300). These declines were predominantly among non-residents, reflecting ongoing border restrictions. Employment also declined in sectors more impacted by tightened restrictions such as food & beverage services (-5,700), retail trade (-2,600), administrative & support services (-2,100), arts, entertainment & recreation (-1,400), and accommodation (-900).

On the other hand, total employment continued to increase in the growth sectors of:

  • Health & social services (4,200),
  • Information & communications (3,700),
  • Professional services (1,900), and
  • Financial & insurance services (500).

MOM's analysis revealed that the increases were entirely accrued to residents, as non-resident employment fell.


Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates eased further in June 2021 (overall: 2.7%; resident: 3.5%; citizen: 3.7%) from May (overall: 2.8%; resident: 3.8%; citizen: 4.0%).

Compared to March 2021, most age and education groups registered declines in their resident unemployment rates. Conversely, the rates rose among residents in their 40s, and residents with degree qualifications.

In July 2021, the unemployment rates increased (overall: from 2.7% to 2.8%; resident: from 3.5% to 3.7%; citizen: from 3.7% to 3.9%) after a consistent downtrend for the past eight months.

"This uptick came amidst a temporary easing in manpower demand in certain sectors due to the tighter COVID-19 restrictions," MOM explained in the report.

"The increase also followed from a higher number of workers being placed on short work-week or temporary layoff, and relatively fewer retrenched residents re-entering employment in Q2 2021."

Looking at the resident long-term unemployment rate (LTUR) was 0.9% in June 2021, there is an improvement from the highs recorded in December 2020 and March 2021 (1.1%). The LTUR declined for most age and education groups. There is an exception, however, among older residents aged 60 & over, who saw LTUR increase for the third consecutive quarter.


In Q2 2021, the number of retrenchments (2,340) rose slightly from the previous quarter (2,270). According to MOM, this trend stayed within the pre-pandemic quarterly range in 2018 and 2019. "Normalised by employment size, the number of retrenchments per 1,000 employees also rose from 1.2 in Q1 2021 to 1.3 in Q2 2021," the Ministry added.

Based on its analysis, the increased retrenchments were largely unrelated to macroeconomic conditions, as the majority (58%) were due to business restructuring and re-organisation.

Over the quarter, retrenchments increased in sectors like:

  • Manufacturing (from 320 to 760, mainly in electronics due to restructuring and re-organisation), and
  • Construction (20 to 90),
  • But fell in services (1,930 to 1,480).

This is because those in services—i.e food & beverage services, retail trade, and arts, entertainment & recreation—saw more workers placed on short work-week or temporary layoff, instead of retrenched. According to the data, more employees were placed on short work-week or temporary layoff in Q2 2021 (5,580) compared to Q1 2021 (4,020), though levels were still significantly below the highs in Q2 to Q4 2020. In 2Q 2021, majority of the affected employees were placed on short work-week (4,240), while the remaining were laid-off temporarily (1,330).

By industry, the increase was concentrated in food & beverage services, air transport & support services, and retail trade, affecting mainly clerical and sales & service workers.

Re-entry employment rate

Among retrenched residents, the six-month re-entry rate decreased in Q2 2021, after rising in the previous two quarters. Of the residents retrenched in Q4 2020, 64% found employment within six months by Q2 2021. However, this isn't the case for those:

  • In age groups below 50;
  • Working as clerical, sales & service workers; and
  • With degree qualifications.

Job vacancies

The Ministry also shared that the number of job vacancies (seasonally adjusted) increased to 92,100 in June 2021, exceeding the last high of 68,400 in March 2021. As the number of unemployed also declined, the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons improved.

"In June 2021, there were 163 job vacancies for every 100 unemployed persons," Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng shared on LinkedIn, which according to MOM was the first time the ratio rose above 1:1 since March 2019.

An analysis revealed this is due to the increases in the number of job vacancies in construction and manufacturing, as "the ongoing border restrictions have affected the availability of manpower for these sectors as they have a higher reliance on non-resident workers."

As such, vacancies in the two sectors have been climbing steadily in previous quarters. In the latest quarter, they contributed nearly half of the increase in job vacancies (11,400 of the 26,800 increase). In the same time period, financial & insurance services, information & communications, and professional services also witnessed a growing number of job vacancies.

Other sectors such as transportation & storage, accommodation, arts, entertainment & recreation, and retail trade registered fewer job vacancies compared to other sectors in June 2021.

"Hence, job seekers who exited from these sectors could face difficulties transiting to sectors where there are jobs. However, at this moment, we do not observe heightened mismatches in the labour market," MOM shared.

ALSO READHighlights: Dr Tan See Leng and Minister Lawrence Wong's Parliamentary speeches on local & foreign employment

Image / Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng's LinkedIn

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