The number of people employed in Singapore tumbled by 6,100 in the first quarter of the year, the first time in five years that employment has contracted.
Total employment, at 3,617,800 in March, was still 2.7 per cent higher than a year ago, according to official quarterly figures released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) on Monday.
Despite this, unemployment continued to fall, with the seasonally-adjusted rate down to 1.8 per cent overall, from 1.9 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. The rate for citizens also creeped down to 2.6 per cent, or around 47,800 people, from 2.7 per cent in the previous quarter.
Layoffs were slightly lower than in the previous quarter. In the first quarter of the year, 3,500 workers lost their jobs, compared with 3,910 who did so in the fourth quarter of 2014. The majority of residents - nearly three in four - who were laid off were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
Vacancies held steady. The seasonally-adjusted number of vacancies last quarter was 65,300, near the record high of 65,500 seen in the previous quarter. Close to half of the vacancies last quarter were for PMETs.
The decline in employment was led by the services sector, which saw a 90 per cent drop in the number of additional workers employed, the report said.
The retail trade, real estate services and accommodation and food services saw falls in employment, while community, social and personal services and administrative and support services saw growth.
Weak output growth in the marine and offshore engineering industries, and the completion of chemical maintenance projects also saw manufacturing employment fall by 6,900.
MOM added that apart from industry-specific factors, the contraction "may be reflective of how segments of the economy could be transiting to be less manpower reliant, and further growth in the local labour force is expected to be limited, given the gains in labour force participation already achieved in recent years."