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Improvement in labour market last year

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Employment growth at 4-year high and retrenchments at 8-year low

Overall, the labour market improved last year, according to the Ministry of Manpower's labour market report released yesterday, with employment growth at a four-year high and retrenchments at an eight-year low.

Total employment grew by 38,300 last year, excluding maids, a reversal from 2017, when the size of the workforce shrank.

There were 10,730 workers who were laid off, down from 14,720 in 2017.

While the number of workers laid off has dipped in the past few years, the axe has been falling disproportionately on higher-skilled workers.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up three in four or 75 per cent of the locals - Singaporeans and permanent residents - who were retrenched last year, the highest figure in at least a decade.

It rose from 72 per cent in 2017 and is significantly higher than the share of PMETs in the resident workforce, which is about 57 per cent.

This is because the industries shedding workers tend to be dominated by PMETs, said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday in its latest labour market report.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay put it down to the rising share of PMETs in the workforce and the tendency for jobs affected by disruption, restructuring and other factors to be PMET positions.

"If you look at the various major layoffs last year, many are in the executive and technician roles," he said.

The report showed that retrenchments last year were mainly in the services sector.

Observers said PMETs are becoming the new vulnerable group and more needs to be done to mitigate the risk of them being displaced.

OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling said there are policies to help low-skilled blue-collar workers, like the Workfare Income Supplement which tops up their wages, and the progressive wage model which sets minimum pay for different skill levels. But PMETs "are more at the mercy of the markets", she said.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah said the policy focus has been on helping PMETs get jobs after being retrenched.

"Perhaps we need to re-orientate and focus on mitigating this trend instead," he said.