Singapore employment grows by 41,100 in Q1 2022 as construction workers return

SINGAPORE employment levels continued to expand in the first 3 months of 2022, on the back of a rebound in foreign workers – mainly in the construction sector.

Total employment grew by 41,100 on the quarter before, excluding migrant domestic workers, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a preliminary report on Thursday (Apr 28).

The ministry noted that “the increase in non-resident employment was significantly greater than that of resident employment” as border restrictions were gradually eased, although foreign worker numbers are still about 18 per cent lower than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Non-resident employment is expected to continue recovering in the coming months, which MOM said will ease some tightness in the labour market.

Resident employment, which is now 3.7 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, should also “grow modestly” amid an ongoing economic recovery, according to the ministry.

While the latest employment growth marked a slowdown from the increase of 47,900 seen in the last quarter of 2021, it “remains a robust pace of growth”, the MOM said.

Some 21,600 of the net jobs added in the quarter came from the construction sector. Services employment rose by 11,600, excluding migrant domestic workers, while the manufacturing sector gained 7,200 positions.

The bulk of the increase in non-resident employment stemmed from work permit holders in construction, while foreign employment held largely stable in all other sectors.

Meanwhile, resident employment kept growing in external-facing industries such as information and communications and financial services, but shrank in retail, food and beverage and accommodation services after year-end seasonal hiring, the MOM said.

Unemployment is now on a par with pre-pandemic levels as well. Overall unemployment ticked up to 2.2 per cent in March, from 2.1 per cent in February, while resident unemployment was flat month on month at 3.0 per cent, and citizen unemployment also unchanged, at 3.2 per cent.

Retrenchments fell to an estimated 1,300 in the quarter, from 1,500 as at end-2021, which the MOM described as a record low amid a tight labour market. The latest figure represents a retrenchment rate of 0.6 per 1,000 employees.

Said the MOM: “As the improving economy continues to drive the demand for workers, we expect unemployment rates to stay low amidst a tight labour market.”

Still, it warned of the risk that lengthy supply chain disruptions and higher prices could weaken business performance and dampen labour demand.

That’s alongside risks to economic growth from factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic; military conflict in Ukraine, which was invaded by neighbouring Russia in February; and monetary policy tightening in advanced economies, which could all weigh on sentiment.

More details on the changes in resident and non-resident employment will be released in June.