SINGAPORE (Mar 12): Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) warned Thursday that the labour market outlook for 2020 is “uncertain” amid the evolving novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak and other global economic uncertainties.

“As the overall economic growth is projected to moderate, the outlook for the labour market is expected to be subdued,” MOM said in a statement.

It noted that the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has downgraded Singapore’s GDP growth forecast for 2020 to “-0.5 to 1.5%”, with growth expected to come in at around 0.5%, the mid-point of the forecast range.

In 2019, total employment excluding Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW) grew by 57,000 – the largest increase in the past five years.

MOM said this reflects continued growth in local employment, and foreign worker increases in the construction industry.

Local employment growth rose to 28,300 in 2019, slightly higher than the 27,400 recorded in 2018.

The increase was led by an improvement in the services industries, including community, social & personal services, professional services, financial & insurance services and information & communications.

Meanwhile, employment in manufacturing and wholesale & retail trade contracted due to a fall in output.

Overall unemployment rates edged up to 2.3%, with resident unemployment at 3.1% and citizen unemployment at 3.3%.

Notably, the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons fell to 0.84 in December 2019, from 1.09 in December 2018.

“Given the continued increase in employment, this suggests possible mismatches in the labour market that bear closer monitoring,” MOM said.

Overall labour productivity fell for the first time in at least five years, in line with the slowdown in economic growth and strong employment growth.

“The government is monitoring the labour market closely and has stepped up our support to help businesses to retain workers, and workers to reskill for new jobs,” MOM said.

To help workers and businesses tide over the near-term challenges, a $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package had been announced at Budget 2020.

The package aims to assist workers to retain their jobs and upgrade their skills to be ready for new opportunities when the tide turns.

Enterprises will also receive support for keeping workers employed, through the Jobs Support Scheme and enhancements to the Wage Credit Scheme.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on March 11 also revealed that the government is considering a second stimulus package as the Covid-19 outbreak shows no signs of slowing down.

See: Singapore SMEs, workers could get more help amid coronavirus woes as government mulls 2nd stimulus package

Beyond near-term uncertainties, MOM said there are also longer-term challenges of keeping Singapore’s workforce relevant as the economy transforms.

To this end, MOM said it will work with Workforce Singapore (WSG) and other tripartite partners to help individuals to reskill and access good jobs created.