SINGAPORE - As the economy picked up last year, the labour market also improved, with higher employment levels for locals.
Layoffs fell, while incomes for Singaporeans also rose, both at the median and 20th percentile levels.
Trends shown in the official full-year data, released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Thursday (March 15), largely confirmed the preliminary data released in January.
Singaporeans and permanent residents made up a slightly bigger proportion of the workforce as of December last year, at 67.2 per cent, up from 66.4 per cent a year earlier.
This was due to fewer foreigners working here, as the marine shipyard and construction sectors shed 32,200 work permit holders.
The number of Employment Pass holders also fell by 4,400, mainly from the professional service and information and communications sectors, which saw a growth in local employment, the MOM said.
With 21,300 more locals in jobs last year, this brought the total number of people employed here, excluding maids, to 3,422,700 as of December.
The ministry said it expects local employment to continue to grow this year, as the economy is expected to expand between 1.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent. But the opportunities will likely be uneven across sectors, with more hiring in sectors such as manufacturing, infocomms and media, logistics and wholesale trade.
Overall, the annual average unemployment rate last year remained the same as the previous year's, at 2.1 per cent.
For Singaporeans, it improved to 3 per cent, down from 3.2 per cent, while for Singaporeans and permanent residents combined, it also fell to 3 per cent from 3.1 per cent.
Long-term unemployment, or the proportion of the resident labour force out of work for at least 25 weeks, remained stable, at 0.8 per cent.
A plus point for jobseekers was the higher number of job openings last December than the year before, resulting in the ratio of vacancies to unemployed people improving slightly to 0.92 after taking into account seasonal variations. Vacancies are typically seen as an indicator of business sentiment.
Retrenchments also fell from a seven-year high, to 14,720 over the year, compared with 19,170 in 2016.
The MOM noted that residents were more vulnerable than foreigners to retrenchment in certain industries - information and communications, manufacturing and real estate - where they made up a larger proportion of retrenchments than their share of the workforce.
Most residents who were retrenched were able to find a new job within six months. This rate of re-entry into employment was about 65 per cent last year, similar to the rate in the previous year, though older workers and degree holders had a harder time on average.
Workers were also more productive. Labour productivity, measured as value-added per actual hour worked, rose by 4.5 per cent last year, up from 1.8 per cent in 2016.
Sectors such as manufacturing, transportation and storage, and wholesale and retail trade performed well. However, productivity fell in the information and communications and accommodation and food service sectors.
The good economic performance likely helped to boost the income of the average Singaporean in full-time work, with the median income, including employer contributions to the Central Provident Fund, rising by 5.9 per cent over the year to $4,050 last June. After adjusting for inflation, the real income growth was 5.3 per cent, up from 1.3 per cent in 2016.
The MOM noted that this could also reflect more higher-skilled workers in the labour force.
The ministry said more older rank-and-file workers will be retiring over the next few years, so businesses will increasingly need to "focus on upgrading jobs and wages through better productivity and job redesign, in order to attract higher-skilled and younger locals".
National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said he expects workers will still face challenges as a result of digital disruption, digitalisation, robotisation, mechanisation and artificial intelligence.
"Employers need to continue to raise productivity by embracing technology and innovation and share the gains from productivity with workers to motivate them," he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Mr Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, also called on employers to create inclusive workplaces for mid-career and mature workers, and women returning to work, and to support workers in upgrading their skills.