All quiet on the labour front?

Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the report “More than 115,000 jobs created last year” (Channel News Asia, Mar 15).

It states that there were “a total of 115,900 jobs created in Singapore for the whole of last year. This was a slight adjustement of an earlier estimate of 112,500 … Last year, local employment grew by 56,200.”

Cut back on foreign workers?

Actually, as foreign employment grew by 59,700 – it means that the rate of change of growth in foreign employment over the previous year’s minus 4,200, was about four times more than that for locals over the previous year’s 41,800.

This is despite the consistent rhetoric that the influx of foreign workers will be curtailed.

Also, since the data for locals is not broken down into Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), in the light of the reply in Parliament last week that only two per cent of the periodic renewal of PRs were rejected, how many of the jobs created actually went to Singaporeans?

The article also states:

“As at December 2010, there were 1,992,700 locals in employment, forming around two in three of the 3,105,900 persons employed in Singapore. The remaining 1,113,200 were foreigners.”

If say 20 per cent of the locals are PRs, then about 49 per cent or one in two workers are foreigners. This I believe is the highest ever for foreign workers to Singaporeans.

Workers’ earnings have risen?

According to the article, workers’ earnings have risen as a result of the tighter labour market:

“Nominal earnings grew by 7.5 per cent over the year in the fourth quarter of 2010. Weighed down by higher inflation, real earnings rose by 3.4 per cent”, real median earnings only rose by 0.5 per cent last year. Moreover, real median earnings was negative in 2009 and 2008.

(Note: The subject MOM report only gives average earnings, without the median earnings data, and even the real average earnings was negative for 2009 and 2008)”

Since last year’s fourth GDP growth was an annualised seasonally adjusted 3.9 per cent after contacting by 16.7 per cent in the third quarter, and GDP growth for the year was a record 14.5 per cent, why is it that according to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Labour Market 2010 report released on 15 March, the following quarter-on-quarter statistics have gotten worse?


The article also states:

“Over the quarter, the overall unemployment rate rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted 2.2% in December 2010 from 2.1% in September 2010… Redundancies rose to 3,190 in the fourth quarter of 2010 from 1,930 in the preceding quarter.

… 51% of residents laid off in the third quarter of 2010 were re-employed as at December 2010. The proportion decreased from 58% in September 2010

“… the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons eased slightly to a seasonally adjusted 1.01 in December 2010 from 1.06 in September 2010.”

The Average Monthly Recruitment Rate non-seasonally adjusted declined from 3 to 2.6% from the third to the fourth quarter.

The following year-on-year data has also gotten worse:-


The Resident Unemployment Rate and Number by Age (Non-Seasonally Adjusted), for those age 30 and below increased from 4.5 (19,700) to 4.6 (20,800) per cent, from 2009 to 2010.

The number of unemployed with a degree increased from 14,700 to 15,300.

Whilst the Long-term unemployment rate for Below Secondary, Secondary and Post-secondary (Non-tertiary) all improved, the rate for Diploma & Professional Qualification and Degree both increased from 0.5 to 0.6%.

The above data may indicate that the more educated one is, the harder it may be to get re-employment.

To what extent has our liberal foreign labour policies which allow employers unsrestricted hiring of foreigners on employment passes contributed to the apparent job woes of older PMETs, who may find it difficult to compete with younger, better educated, qualified and experienced foreigners, who may be willing to work for much less pay than Singaporeans?

Sincs “the data based on CPF records do not capture workers who went into self or informal employment or undergo training while looking for a job”, the re-employment may actually be worse, if an adjustment is made for these workers.

The majority of residents laid off in 2010  were in their 40s (33%)  or above (28%), and half of them were previously holding PMET positions (51.4%). Therefore, it appears that older and more educated workers were more vulnerable to redundancy. Degree holders had the highest redundancy rate of 29.7%, amongs all the categories of workers by educational attainment.

Since the data on residents made redundant pertain to private sector establishments each with at least 25 employees and the public sector, if we include those from private sector establishments with less than 25 employees, are the percentages higher?


In respect of “driven by the robust output growth,  labour productivity increased by 11%, in 2010 after two years of decline (2009:  -3.4% and 2008: -7.5%)”, what this means is that the net increase in productivity over the last three years is actually about -1%. In other words, there may have been no net productivity growth over the last three years.

In summary, with a barage of media reports that the economy is booming and the tight job market is bursting at the seams, do the above statistics perhaps give a hint that not everything may be as rosy as it seems?

Support TOC! Buy Leong Sze Hian’s book here!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments