Singapore’s employment grows by ‘unprecedented’ 231,700 in 2022 on return of non-resident workers

SINGAPORE’S employment levels improved significantly in 2022 compared to the year before. This was on the back of a rebound in foreign workers as border restrictions were lifted and employers backfilled positions, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Total employment grew by an unprecedented 231,700 in 2022, said MOM in a preliminary report on Tuesday (Jan 31). This was driven mainly by a growth in non-resident employment in the construction and manufacturing sectors, which are typically more reliant on foreign manpower.

Resident employment also grew in 2022, but at a slower pace than the year before. Growth was observed across most sectors, and particularly in outward-facing sectors such as financial services; information and communications; and community, social and personal services.

The tight labour market and sustained economic growth led to improvements in Singapore’s unemployment situation, said MOM in the report. Unemployment rates here have returned to its “pre-pandemic steady state”, with annual average unemployment rates significantly lower in 2022 compared to a year ago.

Overall unemployment in 2022 was at 2.1 per cent, resident unemployment at 2.9 per cent and citizen unemployment at 3 per cent. In 2021, overall unemployment was at 2.7 per cent, resident unemployment at 3.5 per cent and citizen unemployment at 3.7 per cent.

With the recent uptick in retrenchments, unemployment rates could “trend higher” this year, said MOM. Nevertheless, they are still expected to remain within the pre-Covid range.

Giving its outlook for 2023, MOM said it expects hiring sentiments to remain positive in the coming months. Additionally, with fewer firms planning to raise wages in the next three months, the risk of an ensuing wage-price spiral remains low.

Nevertheless, the labour market could face headwinds in the coming months. “The projected slowdown in economic growth in 2023 would likely have some impact on the momentum of labour market improvement,” said MOM.

For the fourth quarter, advance estimates showed that employment levels expanded for the fifth consecutive quarter. Total employment, excluding migrant domestic workers, was up 47,400. MOM said that total employment had surpassed its pre-pandemic level by 3 per cent by last December.

Non-resident employment contributed the most to the increase in Q4, with growth concentrated in the construction sector. However, it has “moderated considerably from the highs of the last two quarters as the non-resident employment level approaches that of December 2019”, said MOM.

Supported by seasonal hiring during the year-end holiday season, resident employment growth picked up over the quarter, driven by the consumer-facing sectors of food and beverage, and retail trade.

Resident employment also rose in the community, social and support services, and financial services sectors. Growth was otherwise muted in most other sectors, said MOM.

Unemployment rates remained low in December at below pre-pandemic levels. Overall unemployment was at 2 per cent, resident unemployment at 2.8 per cent and citizen unemployment at 3 per cent.

Though the number of retrenchments went up from previous quarters’ lows at 3,000 in Q4, it was still comparable to the pre-pandemic range, said MOM.

The increase in retrenchments in Q4 was largely due to business reorganisation or restructuring, and was mainly in the information and communications, and electronics manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors. Retrenchments in other sectors remained stable.