Notably, total employment has grown for the first time since Q4 2019, while retrenchment numbers have fallen to 2,100 in Q1 compared to 5,640 in Q4 2020.

Advance estimates on Singapore's employment, unemployment and retrenchments noted that for the first time since 4Q 2019, total employment saw modest expansion in 1Q 2021. The number of retrenchments declined to a level usually observed in 2018 and 2019. The unemployment situation continued to ease in March 2021, although unemployment rates remained elevated.

This was identified in the Labour Market Advance Release First Quarter 2021 report by Ministry of Manpower's Manpower Research and Statistics Department.

We have highlighted the following trends from Singapore's labour market. 

Trend 1: Total employment (excluding Migrant Domestic Workers or MDWs) grew in 1Q 2021 (4.800)

The increase in resident employment outweighed the decline in nonresident employment. This was the first increase since 4Q 2019. The bulk of the employment increases were in Services, attributed solely to residents. Within Services, sectors such as Information & Communications, Financial Services, and Professional Services continued to see employment expansion. Following sustained contractions in the preceding quarters, total employment in Construction also saw muted growth in 1Q 2021, as the decline in non-resident employment moderated significantly.

Trend 2: Unemployment rates declined further in March 2021 (overall: from 3.0% to 2.9%)

While unemployment rates have fallen steadily over the past two quarters, since peaking in September 2020 (overall: 3.5%; resident: 4.8%; citizen: 4.9%), they are still far from pre-pandemic levels. The number of unemployed residents fell from 104,300 in December 2020 to 95,500 in March 2021.

Trend 3: The number of retrenchments declined for the second consecutive quarter (2,100)

This is a level usually observed in pre-pandemic quarters. This would reflect the second consecutive quarter of decline since the number of retrenchments peaked in 3Q 2020 (9,120). The likelihood of retrenchment is expected to decline as well (from 2.8 retrenched per 1,000 employees in 4Q 2020 to 1.1 in 1Q 2021). Retrenchments are expected to decline across all broad sectors.

NTUC Secretary-General Patrick Tay responded to the survey findings: "Am heartened and encouraged to see today’s Q1 advance labour market figures as we see positive signs of a steady improvement of the labour market conditions compared to all four quarters last year. Notably, total employment has grown for the first time, unemployment rates continue its downward trend and we see retrenchment numbers falling to 2,100 in Q1 compared to 5,640 last quarter.

"However, I am quietly optimistic as we are still in the midst of the pandemic and trying to get back on our feet across the various sectors."

He noted that unemployment rates are still relatively higher than prior to the pandemic. As such, he said: "Moving ahead, I think it’s important to pay close attention to how the pandemic pans out the rest of the year, how our vaccination rates progress, how the tapering off of the Jobs Support Scheme come end June will impact companies, and how air travel resumes."

He added: "Employers and workers alike will need to continue to double down our efforts in reskilling, upskilling so as to prepare and pivot in the next normal."

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) Desmond Choo, also the Chairman of Manpower Government Parliamentary Committee, shared: "The first two findings are encouraging signs showing that Singapore’s economy is slowly picking up and we are on track to recovery. However, we are not out of the woods yet, the recovery process will likely take longer than usual and it will be uneven across industries given the need to mitigate Covid-related risks.

"While some countries are starting to open up air travel, such as the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble, most international border controls will remain stringent to keep the virus under control. This could continue to impact inflows of work pass holders, further affecting the supply of workers in certain industries."

Image / MOM report

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