The latest labour report from the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) revealed that while retrenchments fell from 3,230 in the first quarter to 2,320 in the second, the number of PMETs who lost their jobs actually increased from 1,440 to 1,680. PMETs formed the bulk of those retrenched (‘PMET unemployment in Singapore continues to climb‘, 3 Oct).
Nearly half of the retrenched workers have a degree, and 70 per cent were over 40 years old. In fact, the proportion of PMETs among all retrenched workers has been rising over nearly the last decade despite their skills and qualifications.
Sadly, the rate of re-entering the workforce for PMETs after being retrenched for 6 months was reported to be 57.8 per cent in the second quarter. A large number remained unemployed even after 6 months.
“PMETs continue to form a much larger share of retrenched workers compared to their proportion in the workforce,” said DBS senior economist Irvin Seah. He called them “the newly vulnerable”.
“Most of them are white-collar, skilled workers who command a higher salary and have many financial and family commitments. They are looking for jobs that can support (their lifestyle), but (these) are not readily available anymore,” added Mr Seah.
Some of the retrenched PMETs interviewed by Yahoo Singapore included 39-year-old banker Jeremy Ho* (not his real name) who was retrenched in June this year. He actually began his job hunt even before receiving his retrenchment notice when he heard about the impending job cuts at his bank.
But 20 applications and three interviews later, he still remains jobless.
Another person who was interviewed was James Ching, 41. He was a regional marketing director in the education industry who resigned last December. He has 17 years of marketing experience in both MNCs and the public sector. But after eight months and despite getting help from recruiters, he remains jobless too.
James said, “I thought that one (interview) went well, but they thought I wouldn’t be happy because the role was too junior.”
Despite government schemes like the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP), which helps PMETs find jobs in new industries, many retrenched Singaporean PMETs continue to struggle finding a job. Some who were saddled with mortgage loans sold their house and downgraded to a smaller unit.
PMETs driving Grab
Increasingly, many PMETs who couldn’t get a job after searching for a long time resorted to driving Grab and taxi so as to make ends meet.
Shaun Ow, 39, was working in the private sector for some 11 years in various industries before he was retrenched 4-5 years ago. He then tried to find a job for more than a year before giving up. He ended up driving Grab to feed his family.
He told the media that he has been a private hire car driver for the last three-and-a-half years and manages to earn about $5,000 a month after accounting for all the charges. But he has to work very hard, driving everyday for 12 to 14 hours non-stop. On average, he would be making 20 to 25 trips daily and hardly has any time for his family.
“Passengers sometimes think our job is easy – sitting in an air-conditioned environment is easy. But I always tell them: You find one weekend, have two one-hour breaks for lunch and dinner, and sit in a comfortable sofa for 12 hours just watching TV. You will feel sore backs, sore shoulders, sore necks, sore everywhere,” he said.
Prof Walter Theseira, a Nominated MP and an economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), is concerned about large number of PMETs driving Grab or taxi.
“The jobs offer no career path and do not provide workers with significant marketable skills. This means that workers in such jobs will inevitably end up disadvantaged compared to their peers who are able to stay in jobs that offer a career path and the opportunity to build marketable skills,” he said.
That is to say, PMETs who switched to driving Grab or taxi would have an even harder time getting a job in the market later because it would not help to build up their resume.
At the Singapore Bicentennial Conference on Tue (1 Oct), the former Singapore’s UN Permanent Representative Professor Tommy Koh also noticed the trend of displaced Singaporeans becoming Grab drivers.
He advised the 4th generation PAP leaders to look into allegations of discriminatory hiring practices and working to make Singapore a classless society. He said, “Today, Singapore is not a classless society. We are divided by wealth, by income, by profession, by place of residence, and even by the school we attend.”
He hopes the 4G leaders will help establish a more caring and inclusive society in Singapore, with employers and the Government stepping in to help those who are laid off as the economy restructures.
“We should not abandon the displaced workers because we don’t want more and more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers or, worse, to join the ranks of the angry voters,” he said.
“Remember this: It was the angry voters who helped to elect President (Donald) Trump in the United States. It was the angry voters in the United Kingdom who voted to leave the European Union,” Prof Koh warned.
Meanwhile, the number of foreign PMETs employed in Singapore continues to climb.