With employment growing steadily each quarter, Singapore's total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers (FDW), grew by 55,200 for the whole of 2019. This was according to the Labour Market Advance Release 2019 report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Based on preliminary estimates, total employment (excl. FDW) continued to grow in 2019, contributed by locals (26,500) and foreigners (28,700).
Local employment growth in 2019 (26,500) was similar to 2018 (27,400) and driven mostly in the services industries with a higher-skilled workforce (such as community, social & personal services, professional services and information & communications). The growth in the service sector was balanced by declines in industries (such as Manufacturing and wholesale trade) which were affected by the softer economic conditions.
Work permit holders in construction contributed to about half of the 28,700 foreign employment growth (excl. FDW) in 2019.
The report noted that if employment growth from construction was excluded, foreign employment growth (excl. FDW) in 2019 (14,900) would be lower than local employment growth (27,500), and also lower than foreign employment growth (excl. FDW) in 2018 (16,300).
While the number retrenchments in 2019 (10,700) were similar to 2018 (10,730), the annual average unemployment rate in 2019 was higher than 2018.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate holding steady in December 2019 (overall: 2.3%; resident: 3.2%; citizen: 3.3%). That said, 2019 ended with a higher annual average unemployment rate due to consistently higher quarterly unemployment rates when comparing 2019 and 2018.
The report also noted that compared to a year ago, real median income growth for Singaporeans was 3.0% in June 2019, similar to that in June 2018 (2.9%).
Singaporeans also continued to earn higher incomes in the recent five years. From 2014 to 2019, real median income (including employer CPF contributions) of full-time employed Singaporeans increased by 3.9% per annum (p.a.). This was significantly higher than the 2.1% p.a. in the previous five years.
Greater support, funding and focus in the areas of jobs and skills
Commenting on the findings in a Facebook post, Patrick Tay, NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General, said: "The rise in unemployment with retrenchment figures holding steady coupled with a rise in employment suggest that structural challenges such as skills and jobs mismatches continue to be the main cause of unemployment in Singapore.
"The layoffs we saw in 2019 were mainly due to re-organization, restructuring, and transformation besides global trade and geo-political uncertainties. The on-going Wuhan virus and how it pans out will inevitably affect demand and impact sectors such as aviation, travel, hospitality and retail amongst others."
Noting the current and impending challenges, including Singapore's demographic/labour force profile, global issues such as increasing Protectionism, technological disruption, the Wuhan Virus, and more, he hopes for greater support, funding and focus in the areas of jobs and skills for locals in the upcoming Singapore Budget 2020.
"The support should come in various forms and ways targeted at both workers (especially mature workers and PMEs) and employers (SMEs included) so that we can be best poised to confront, overcome and ride the wave of change and challenges."