Pay cheques of some 224,800 workers across 6,300 companies in Singapore took a hit from cost-cutting measures over the last five months.

With 52,600 staff affected, the accommodation and food services sector was the worst hit as hotels suffered from the absence of guests and restaurants could only accept take away orders during the circuit breaker measures.

Similarly, the construction sector was severely hit by the stoppage of works at sites working on non-essential projects. This saw 42,000 workers taking a hit.

The wholesale and retail trade sector – which accounts for operations at food & beverage outlets, department stores and wholesale of household goods – also suffered from restricted operations and the safe distancing measures limiting the number of patrons. This affected 23,800 workers.

Collectively, these three sectors account for over half of the workers whose wages have taken a hit, the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) weekly report published on August 20 highlights.

However, these numbers appear to be tapering off since the end of the circuit breaker in June. 

For instance, 22,800 employees from 600 firms accepted cost cutting measures in July compared to 83,000 employees from 2,800 firms in April,

Aside from a reduction in salary, cost-saving measures adopted include: the imposition of no-pay leave and having shorter work weeks, MOM details.

“Local employees make up slightly less than half of all employees affected by cost-saving measures,” the authority adds.

In a bid to monitor such adjustments, MOM has required firms to declare the cost-cutting measures affecting staff from May 12.

Such cost-saving moves have been billed as an alternative to layoffs, and MOM has concluded that companies are making "concerted efforts to hold back retrenchments, likely encouraged by the broad-based support measures provided by government".

Still, market watchers caution that these measures may have a prolonged impact on employees. For instance, an individual who has accepted a pay cut, may have work at a similar pay range in a new role and take time for their salary to go back to what it once was. 

On a happier note, MOM points out that employment has been picking up in the start-up sector. 

Start-ups – loosely defined as companies incorporated in the last five years – have taken in around 330 jobseekers under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package between April and June. 

About half of these individuals were mid-career workers who had joined under Professional Conversion Programmes.

Another 150 staff are fresh and recent graduates who have been placed under the Traineeship Programmes, MOM said.

Under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, over 4,600 jobs and 860 traineeships and attachments are up for grabs in over 1,600 start-ups.

These include unconventional roles such as gallery manager executive, commercial intelligence associate and animator; tech-related roles such as software developers and app developers, and non-tech roles like sous chefs, business development leads and digital content producers.

About half of these individuals were mid-career workers who had joined under Professional Conversion Programmes.

Another 150 staff are fresh and recent graduates who have been placed under the Traineeship Programmes, MOM said.

“Contrary to common perception, salaries offered by start-ups are not necessarily below the industry norm,” the government body stresses.

For instance, software developer roles in a start-up commanded a median salary of $6,000. Meanwhile, administrative and related associate professionals earned an average of $2,700.

In spite of its extensive efforts in saving jobs – through the Jobs Support Scheme – and creating opportunities, the effects from the pandemic and the resultant crisis renders uncertainty in hiring and maintaining roles.

As MOM puts it, “job losses will still happen with the mounting pressure on businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic”