SINGAPORE: Unemployment rates edged up last year amid economic challenges, in what Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said was a "concern" but not "alarming".
Singapore's annual average overall unemployment rate rose to 2.3 per cent last year from 2.1 per cent in 2018, holding steady in the last three months of the year after trending upwards in the previous quarters, according to preliminary numbers released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in its Labour Market Report on Thursday (Jan 30).
Unemployment for residents increased to 3.2 per cent last year from 2.9 per cent in 2018, while that for Singaporeans stood at 3.3 per cent, up from 3 per cent previously.
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NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said that structural challenges such as skills and jobs mismatches continue to be the main cause of unemployment in Singapore.
He said that he is "eagerly looking forward" to greater support and funding for Singaporeans in the upcoming Budget, particularly in a challenging climate.
"With the current and impending challenges such as our demographic/labour force profile, global issues such as the US-China trade war, Brexit and increasing protectionism, technological disruption, the Wuhan virus etc, (I) am eagerly looking forward to greater support, funding and focus in the areas of jobs and skills for Singaporeans," said Mr Tay.
"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," he added.
EMPLOYMENT CONTINUED TO RISE IN CHALLENGING YEAR
Total employment continued to grow last year despite economic headwinds during the course of the year and the uncertainties that remain ahead, noted MOM in its report.
Total employment (excluding foreign domestic workers) grew by 16,600 in the October to December quarter, lower than the third quarter of last year (21,700) but higher than a year prior (14,700).
This took 2019's total employment growth to 55,200, said MOM.
Local employment rose by 26,500 last year, similar to the 27,400 recorded in 2018.
Expansion was seen in services industries, but local employment contracted in industries such as manufacturing and wholesale trade, which were affected by the "softer economic conditions".
"Similar to the past two decades, local employment grew in tandem with total employment," said the ministry.
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About half of foreign employment growth (excluding foreign domestic workers) was due to an increase in work permit holders working in construction.
Excluding construction and foreign domestic workers, foreign employment grew by 14,900 in 2019, slightly lower than 2018's count of 16,300.
RETRENCHMENTS SLIGHTLY LOWER
Retrenchments last year were slightly lower than in 2018.
MOM said there were 10,700 retrenchments for the full year, compared with 10,730 in 2018. Retrenchments were higher in manufacturing and services, but lower in construction.
In the last quarter, 2,700 people were retrenched, slightly higher than 2,470 in the third quarter and 2,510 in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo pointed out that while the unemployment rate has inched upwards since the start of 2018, with resident and citizen unemployment rates hovering at around the 3 per cent mark, these numbers are still lower than the 4 to 5 per cent figures seen in the previous decade.
“From that perspective, the unemployment rates for 2019 are a concern but they are not alarming,” Mrs Teo said.
Coupled with “better than expected” employment growth and an absence of a spike in retrenchments, the numbers suggest that “the challenge is not primarily the lack of job creation or jobs being created, but possible job-skills mismatches,” Mrs Teo added.
The real median income of full-time employed Singaporeans increased 3.9 per cent annually from 2014 to 2019, "significantly" higher than the 2.1 per cent annual growth in the previous five years, said MOM.
Over the last five years, real income growth at the 20th percentile rose by 4.6 per cent annually, higher than the 3.9 per cent annual growth at the median.
"This was helped by initiatives to raise the income of low-wage workers in recent years. As a result, their income gap with the median worker narrowed," said MOM.