Channel NewsAsia

Unemployment rate inches up in Q1 but remains low: Manpower ministry

The seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate was 2 per cent in March this year, up from 1.8 per cent in December 2013.

SINGAPORE: The unemployment rate in Singapore remains low, despite rising slightly in the first quarter of the year, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures show.

The key findings from MOM’s “Labour Market, First Quarter 2014” report, released on Friday (June 13), were that the seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate was 2 per cent in March this year, up from 1.8 per cent in December 2013.

Similar increases were observed for residents from 2.7 per cent to 2.9 per cent and citizens from 2.8 per cent to 3 per cent. This could reflect increased job search activity as more residents, especially the less educated, were encouraged to enter the labour force, given more job openings and an increase in wages, with the tightening of foreign manpower controls, the ministry said.

The long-term unemployment rate stayed low at 0.6 per cent in March 2014. There were 12,900 residents who had been looking for work for at least 25 weeks in March 2014, down from 13,700 in March 2013.

Total employment grew by 28,300 in the first quarter, lower than the seasonally high increase of 40,600 in the last quarter of 2013 but broadly comparable to the 28,900 in the first quarter of 2013. This brought total employment to 3,522,200 in March 2014, which was 4 per cent higher than a year ago, the report said.

The seasonally adjusted job vacancies rose for the third consecutive quarter, though the rate of increase over the quarter moderated to 3 per cent in March 2014 from 9.2 per cent in December 2013 and 5.8 per cent in September 2013.

"It could mean there's a mismatch in the skills available in the market and the people that are looking for work just don't have the right skills," said Mr Ian Grundy, the head of marketing and communications for Asia at Adecco Group.

"It could also mean that the increase in jobs, for those jobs, they're just not that attractive. They may not be paying as much, or the benefits package may not be good enough, and that the employers need to make those jobs more competitive."Some economists say that job openings are more apparent in the food and beverage, accommodation and financial services sectors," Mr Grundy said.

"These sectors have been quite reliant on foreign manpower to some extent. This appears to indicate that the available labour pool may not be making up for the change to a new labour market regime, where we are trying to be less reliant on foreign manpower," noted Assoc Prof Randolph Tan, the Deputy Director for the Centre for Applied Research at SIM University.

"In short, what it really means is that, with a tighter labour market and less access to foreign manpower, what we hope is for the resident labour pool to be able to fill the needs of employers, but that doesn't seem to be happening immediately. At least that appears to be what we are seeing in this quarter." 

The ministry’s report also highlighted that job openings continued to outnumber job seekers, though the ratio has eased. The seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons declined from 1.43 in December 2013 to 1.33 in March 2014.

A total of 3,110 workers were made redundant in the first quarter, a decline from the 3,660 in the preceding quarter, though this was higher than the 2,120 workers retrenched in the first quarter of last year.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna