THE number of layoffs has not soared but the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is keeping a close eye on the situation, said Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Last month, 22 employers informed MOM that they planned to retrench about 230 workers.

Two-thirds are in services and one-third in manufacturing. And about 140 are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

But the figures could be higher as it is not compulsory for an employer to inform MOM, Mr Tan said in his reply to Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC).

However, he added: 'There is no indication yet that the number of workers facing retrenchment has gone up sharply.'

In the last three months of 2011, the number of workers retrenched rose to 3,100, from 1,410 in the previous quarter, according to preliminary MOM figures released last month.

But economists had said the number is within expectations, and pointed to the tight labour market with unemployment at a 14-year low of 2 per cent.

Still, MOM will not let its guard down, said Mr Tan as he assured the House that the Government will be prepared to come to the aid of companies and workers, with measures to avoid the loss of jobs.

These include helping companies 'manage their workforce flexibly instead of resorting to retrenchment'.

In the last 2008-2009 recession, help measures introduced by the Government included the Jobs Credit wage subsidy scheme and the Special Risk-Sharing Initiative for bank loans to small and medium-sized enterprises.

But should retrenchment be inevitable, he urged companies to act responsibly, including giving layoff benefits to the affected workers.

He also urged companies to inform MOM early of their retrenchment plans so that the ministry can work with government agencies such as the Workforce Development Agency and the Employment and Employability Institute, to help those who have lost their jobs.