Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released preliminary employment data today (30 Jan) showing that the annual average unemployment rate for Singaporeans rose to 3.3 per cent last year, up from 3 per cent in 2018.
The overall unemployment rate including PRs and foreigners, however, is lower. It also rose, from 2.1 per cent in 2018 to 2.3 per cent last year.
Retrenchments last year for the overall workforce were slightly lower at 10,700, from 10,730 in 2018, though the numbers rose over the third and fourth quarters in 2019. MOM did not disclose how many of the 10,700 retrenched were Singaporeans.
MOM added that the real median income (including employer CPF contributions) of full-time employed Singaporeans increased by 3.9% per annum from 2014 to 2019, significantly higher than the 2.1% in the previous five years.
In total, 55,200 more people, excluding foreign domestic workers, were employed in Singapore over the course of last year, the highest annual growth since 2014. The issue of whether Singaporeans have access to good jobs was discussed in Parliament recently. MOM released a paper last week which showed that the employment rate of Singaporeans has risen over the past decade.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told the media that last year’s unemployment rates “are a concern but they are not alarming”.
“We must remember the context of better-than-expected employment growth and the absence of a spike in retrenchments. When you put the three together, this suggests that the challenge is not primarily lack of job creation but possible job-skills mismatches,” said Ms Teo.
Local employment growth was better than expected, given the economic headwinds and uncertainties, she noted.
“The outlook has become more uncertain. The Wuhan virus situation, however, will not last forever. We have to address immediate concerns but keep an eye on the future, so for the longer term, we will help businesses to transform and adapt,” she said.
Companies such as Grab and FoodPanda helping to provide jobs to the unemployed
In any case, Ms Teo should thank companies like Grab and Foodpanda, which is helping to cut Singapore’s unemployment rate by providing jobs to those who are retrenched and unemployed.
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 in order to feed his hungry 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.
Mr Edgar Soon, 43, who works as a delivery rider for Foodpanda, spends about 10 hours a day, five to six days a week, on his motorcycle, zipping between eateries, homes and workplaces.
Typically, he handles around 25 orders each day, covering areas such as Pasir Ris, Simei, Changi Business Park, Bedok, and Tampines where he lives. On the job for slightly over a year, he earns about S$3,000 to S$4,000 a month, about double what he used to earn as a laboratory technician.
As of Sept 2019, there are 47,500 licensed private-hire car drivers. Based on publicly available data, GrabFood, FoodPanda and Deliveroo hire, in total, about 22,000 riders for their food-delivery service in 2019.
Once started driving Grab, Singaporeans like Shaun and Edgar would have a hard time finding a job back in the industries because their resume will show a gap in their career progression. Besides, it’s not known how long these venture-funded companies like Grab and FoodPanda can continue to give generous payouts to drivers and riders because all of them have been reported operating at running losses.
Meanwhile, the government continues to issue work passes to foreign PMETs to work in Singapore.