Unemployment rate for locals held steady in Q1

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Drop in overall number of people employed, mostly due to work permit holders

Unemployment for Singaporeans and permanent residents held steady in the first three months of this year in a patchy labour market that reflects the uneven growth in the economy.

Official figures released on Friday showed that fewer workers lost their jobs.

At the same time, the overall number of people employed here plunged, hitting a level not seen since 2003 - during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak.

Work permit holders contributed largely to the drop, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in its preliminary report on the Singapore labour market in the first quarter.

For locals, including permanent residents, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate last month was 3.2 per cent, unchanged from December.

The rate for citizens also stayed put at 3.5 per cent, after a sharp uptick in December from the September rate of 3 per cent.

Overall, unemployment rose to 2.3 per cent, up from 2.2 per cent in December.

The outlook for the global economy, however, has improved slightly this year.

There is also a glimpse of a rebound in outward-oriented or trade-related sectors, fuelled particularly by growth in Singapore's manufacturing, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore's biannual Macroeconomic Review released on Thursday.

Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng, however, noted that the latest labour figures suggest that "stronger external demand in the past two quarters has yet to provide any meaningful uplift to labour demand, with even manufacturing continuing to shed jobs".

Similarly, MOM cautioned that downside risks and uncertainties remain.

It said: "Hiring in some sectors remains cautious, but opportunities will continue to be available in others, such as healthcare, infocomm, finance and insurance and certain segments of manufacturing."

Recruitment firm Adecco Personnel's Singapore country manager Femke Hellemons said the bright spots for jobs are in the logistics and supply chain, e-commerce and technology sectors.

Layoffs continued to remain high, though the number fell to 4,800 between January and last month, down from 5,440 in the previous quarter.

But it is slightly higher than the 4,710 a year ago.

Fewer workers lost their jobs in manufacturing but more did in construction and services.

MOM said redundancies are expected to remain high as some sectors go through cyclical weakness and businesses continue to restructure.

As more work permit holders were sent home, total employment shrank, with 8,500 workers losing their jobs in the first quarter - the biggest fall in 14 years. Most of the losses were in manufacturing and construction.

The service sector, however, continued to add workers.

MOM said it has two priorities - to support out-of-work residents or people at risk of losing jobs, through its Adapt and Grow programmes; and to work with the National Trades Union Congress and employers to help businesses be more productive.