15 December 2011

State of the Labour Market 2011

15 December 2011

Singapore has done well on the employment front so far this year. This is encouraging especially when we can see the employment situation in many other countries faring less than positively.

Total employment in the first 9 months of the year grew by 85,000, slightly higher than the 82,000 in the same period last year. The seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate declined slightly from 2.1% in June 2011 to 2.0% in September 2011. The figures for Singapore Citizens were 3.1% and 3.0% respectively.

The number of layoffs remains low. Job vacancies are healthy – in fact they are higher compared to last year, though they have dropped from the last quarter. On top of that, we have seen average monthly earning over the first 9 months of 2011 go up over the year by 1.5% in real terms.

Looking ahead to 2012

While we are enjoying the benefits from the strong rebound in 2010, the spillover impact of the debt crisis in the West will hit our shores. Singapore is unlikely to escape unscathed and our job market will inevitably be affected. Will we see more unemployment in 2012? We are refreshing our drawer plans to get ready and to pre-empt where we can.

I was encouraged by a survey last week which indicated that Singapore companies are more inclined to keep their workers in a downturn rather than to retrench them as they used to do. I hope this was one of the key takeaways from the last recession. There is a Chinese idiom “养精蓄锐“, which means to consolidate and conserve energy for challenges ahead. It is important that we do it right by our workers who have stayed the course with the companies. And I hope the converse is true as well. It is this strong partnership that will enable sustainable success for the longer term.

I hope companies have learnt that recessionary periods are opportune moments to send workers for training so that they are ready to ramp up production quickly when the economy picks up. I trust that they will fully utilize available manpower by redeploying staff to other areas of work or adopting flexible work arrangements such as a shorter work week or having staff take their annual leave during the lull period.

What I have noted is that a number of Singaporean employers have fed back that some Singaporean workers are very demanding, choosy and not very ‘hungry’. Some shared that our recessions and downturns do not ‘bite’ enough to make us appreciate our jobs better, and to strengthen our work attitude and values

It is not a trivial matter to be unemployed. Even if our employment figures are very strong, there are Singaporeans who have found it difficult to find employment and we need to do more to help them where we can. Our pre-occupation has always been on ensuring economic growth that would create jobs for our people and we should do our utmost. But it may be prudent for us to reflect on some of these comments and consider our work ethic in this light.

Hence, do keep up-skilling ourselves and continue to enhance our productivity so that we can be competitive and effective. Job markets today are regional and global in nature and we need to remain attractive and viable.

I do urge workers and employers alike to stay the course and be resilient. As long as our Singapore workforce retains our strong work ethic and positive attitude, and our employers look after their workers and innovate to stay productive, we will position ourselves well to not only ride out any economic turbulence, but to thrive when the upturn comes.

Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin
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