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Non-PMETs hit harder by unemployment than PMETs during COVID-19 pandemic: Manpower Ministry

Non-PMETs hit harder by unemployment than PMETs during COVID-19 pandemic: Manpower Ministry

A taxi driver wearing a face mask reads the newspaper as he waits for customers amid the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore on May 5, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: Non-professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) experienced a higher jobless rate compared to PMETs, as industries more affected by COVID-19 had a greater concentration of non-PMETs, latest data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed. 

Resident unemployment rate among non-PMETs increased by 1.7 percentage points from 4.7 per cent in June 2019 to 6.4 per cent in June 2020. 

Among their professional counterparts, that rate increased by only 0.6 percentage points from 2.9 per cent to 3.5 per cent in the same period, according to MOM’s 2020 Labour Force in Singapore Advance Release report published on Thursday (Dec 3). 

However, MOM said those figures were still below what was seen during the SARS outbreak and global financial crisis. The unemployment rate was at 6.7 per cent for non-PMETs in 2004 and 4.1 per cent for PMETs in 2003. In 2009, it was 6.9 per cent and 3.9 per cent for non-PMETs and PMETs respectively. 

Industries more badly impacted by COVID-19 faced more job cutbacks. In front-facing sectors like accommodation, retail trade, and food & beverages services, the unemployment rate rose by 5 percentage points, 2.2 percentage points, and 1.8 percentage points respectively. 

Among non-PMETs, unemployment rates rose steeply across all age groups. 

And while the increase in the unemployment rate among PMETs was relatively narrower, older executives aged 50 and above saw a spike in unemployment - from 3.2 per cent in June last year to 4.3 per cent in June this year. 

MOM attributed this to a tendency for this group to earn more and the longer time needed for such workers to find another job matching their expertise and salary expectations.

The report said that unemployment among PMET and non-PMETs was largely due to short-term joblessness, as long-term unemployment (25 weeks or more) grew at a smaller rate. 

The share of PMETs in the resident workforce continued to increase, from 58.4 per cent in 2019 to 59.9 per cent this year, as sectors with more PMETs faced fewer COVID-19 headwinds. 

Non-PMET employment also fell, from 41.6 per cent to 40.1 per cent year-on-year, as it was pulled down by sectors more severely impacted by COVID-19 that tend to hire more non-PMETs. 

This year, more of them were also in casual or on-call employment terms instead of permanent and fixed contract terms, owing to greater demand for delivery, e-commerce and security services, the report said. 


MOM said that the economy has been recovering since June, the month the data in the report was pegged to.

In October, both the overall and Singaporean unemployment rate did not change from the previous month, remaining at 3.6 per cent and 4.9 per cent respectively. The rate among residents rose by 0.1 percentage point to 4.8 per cent. 

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who spoke to the media on the report, said that while the labour market had recovered in the third quarter, it was because some companies had to fill vacant positions.

But to sustain the growth, she added, the economy would have to "return to the path of job growth", especially as the workforce was still expanding.

The country would have to work with economic agencies to make sure economic activities are brought into Singapore, said Mrs Teo.

She added that the authorities would focus on training and plugging skills gaps, with COVID-19 having displaced many workers whose jobs may never return.


Real median income growth among full-time employed residents contracted by 0.3 per cent, after growing by 2.2 per cent in 2019. 

The nominal median income - unadjusted for inflation and including CPF contributions - of full-time employed residents dipped from S$4,563 in 2019 to S$4,534 in 2020. The last time it fell for this group of workers was in 2004, based on available records from MOM. 

Income at the 20th percentile suffered greater losses, as real income growth contracted by 4.5 per cent. The nominal income among full-time employed residents slid from S$2,457 to S$2,340. 

MOM said industries that were more severely impacted by COVID-19 have a high concentration of lower-income earners. 

Incomes of lower-income self-employed workers such as taxi and private-hire car drivers, and hawkers were also hurt by the plunge in tourist arrivals, work-from-home arrangements, and hiatus in dine-in services during the 'circuit breaker'. 

However, MOM said that after including Workfare payouts - income supplements for low-wage workers - the 20th percentile income level in 2020, at S$2,449, is similar to 2019’s level of S$2,457. 

Real income growth over the past five years at the median and 20th percentile went up by 2.7 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively. 


Resident - Singaporeans and permanent residents - employment rate decreased from 65.2 per cent in 2019 to 64.5 per cent this year, which is the lowest since 2014. 

But MOM said this was a smaller reduction than in past recessions due to slower population and labour force growth.

The employment rate among people aged 25 to 64, at 80.3 per cent, remained close to the five-year average of 80.5 per cent. This group make up the bulk (85.7 per cent) of the resident workforce.

More elderly residents aged 65 and over continued to find work - many of them are cleaners and security officers in essential services - raising their age group’s employment rate from 27.6 per cent in 2019 to 28.5 per cent in 2020.

On the other hand, the employment rate among those aged between 15 and 24 tumbled by three percentage points from 33.9 per cent to 30.9 per cent. More of them chose to stay in school alongside fewer job opportunities, as those who usually work part-time would find jobs in the pandemic-stricken hospitality sectors.

Based on gender, the employment rate among females aged 25 to 64 dipped from 73.3 per cent to 73.2 per cent year-on-year, but the employment rate of males plunged from 88.8 per cent to 87.9 per cent, a 16-year record low. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this article said that the unemployment rate among PMETs was 4.1 per cent in 2004. It should be 2003. It also stated that non-PMET employment fell from 41.6 per cent to 40.2 per cent. The correct figure should be 40.1 per cent. We apologise for the errors.

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Source: CNA/ac


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