Fewer jobs as employers grow wary and virus outbreak worsens outlook
MOM figures show ratio of vacancies to unemployed fell to 0.84; virus outbreak worsens already grim picture amid uncertainties
Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, employers were more cautious about hiring last year amid economic uncertainties.
As a result, the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people fell to 0.84 in December, down from 1.09 a year earlier, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.
Economists said the picture this year is likely to be more grim, given that the outlook has soured as the coronavirus spreads worldwide.
Unemployment and retrenchments are likely to worsen this year, they added.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said Singapore has to brace itself for a more bumpy road ahead. This is why the Government's priority is to stem job losses, she told reporters at an event on Tuesday.
"In the medium- to longer-term if you look at what Singapore will be in the future... the opportunities are still here," she said.
The reasons she cited are that the labour market in the last few years was still relatively tight and the working-age population "will not expand by so much".
"But we have to be quite realistic," Mrs Teo added.
"For the next few months, the priority has to be to help the companies settle down."
If they survive the current upheaval, "there's a chance for them to start hiring in more significant numbers".
Still, the proportion of residents - Singaporeans and permanent residents - who got new jobs last year within six months of being retrenched edged up to 64 per cent, from 63 per cent in 2018.
Similarly, the long-term unemployment rate for residents remained unchanged at 0.7 per cent last year. This refers to the share of the resident labour force that were unemployed for at least 25 weeks.
But the quarterly rate, adjusted for seasonal variations, rose in the second half of the year to 0.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, the highest level in at least six years.
Overall, the labour market did better than expected last year, Mrs Teo said.
She also reiterated that unemployment remained within the low range of recent years, employment of locals grew slightly faster than in 2018, and the level of retrenchments dipped, even for professionals, managers, executives and technicians.
Local employment grew by 28,300 last year, up from 27,400 in the previous year, yesterday's data showed.
This is a reversal of the preliminary data, released in January, which showed local employment declining to 26,500.
Foreign employment, excluding maids, grew by 28,700, up from 10,900, with the growth coming mainly from more construction workers being hired.
MOM said yesterday the labour market outlook is expected to be subdued as the overall economic growth is expected to moderate. It grew by 0.7 per cent last yer.