THE labour market remained tight in the second quarter of the year, with the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stable at 2 per cent.
But momentum eased on the jobs front, with employment growth slowing to the lowest level in four years, according to preliminary figures released by the Ministry of Manpower yesterday.
Some 22,000 more workers found jobs in the last quarter, taking the total number of people in employment to 3.54 million.
This is down from 28,300 in the first quarter of this year, and 33,700 in the second quarter of last year.
However, economists said the latest figures are not worrying, given the small size of the domestic labour force.
Said labour economist Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy: "It's not surprising and is in line with what the Government is trying to do in cutting back our dependence on foreign workers."
OCBC economist Selena Ling said that the amount of slack in the labour market should have lessened. "Some of the labour-force resources that businesses can tap, such as retirees and housewives, have already come back into the market," she added.
The manufacturing sector, in particular, contracted, losing 2,600 workers in its worst quarterly showing since the third quarter of 2009.
This is likely to be due to ongoing restructuring, especially in the technology industry, said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun.
On the whole, the labour market was fairly stable in the last quarter.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for residents was 2.8 per cent, a slight improvement from 2.9 per cent in the preceding quarter. The rate for citizens remained at 3 per cent.
Layoffs fell for a second consecutive quarter. Employers let go of 2,300 workers, a dip from 3,110 in the first quarter of the year and lower than the 3,080 in the second quarter of last year.
This could mean that companies are being more cautious in releasing employees, and are mindful of the limited talent pool in some areas, said Femke Hellemons, country manager of human-resource firm Adecco Singapore.
Mr Song said that, while businesses are still having trouble finding workers, it is not to the extent that more of them are closing down.
And when the developed economies see stronger growth, perhaps next year, sectors like manufacturing should see stronger output and headcount.
He added: "The question is how much flexibility the Government will give local businesses in terms of hiring in the face of increasing global demand, as there are only so many workers in Singapore."
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.