More firms placing staff on shorter work weeks or temporary layoffs

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

She has gone from working five days a week to three days now.

The assistant manager, who wanted to be known only as Ms Lisa, said her company is exploring shorter work weeks.

She told The New Paper yesterday: "These are hard times and I am thankful... I am taking home a salary and can provide for my family."

About 4,190 employees were placed on shorter work week or temporary layoffs instead of retrenchments in the first quarter of this year. It is a five-fold increase compared with the 840 in the previous quarter, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said last Friday that government measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) have helped prevent a sharp spike in unemployment rate or retrenchment.

"It suggests that the measures that are supported by the tripartite partners, although they do involve some sacrifices especially on the part of the workers, are also helping to preserve jobs," she said.

But this has led to the number of paid hours of work to fall, said MOM. It added that the labour market conditions are likely to worsen in the upcoming quarter as hiring demand takes a dip.

Mrs Teo said this is reflected in the seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people hitting a decade low of 0.71, meaning there were only seven job openings for every 10 job seekers.

Seasonally adjusted job vacancies fell from 52,700 in December last year to 46,300 in March this year, with sectors in the food and beverage services and entertainment the hardest hit.

However, there were more openings in sectors such as electronics manufacturing and health and social services.

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Mrs Teo added: "We do not know exactly how the second quarter will turn out but it's best for us to get ready and be prepared for more job losses. We have to try our very best to open up more pathways for the job seekers."

Total employment, excluding maids, dropped by 25,600, which is 29 per cent more than the 19,900 indicated in the preliminary report, said the MOM.

This is the sharpest decline to date, with the MOM attributing it to a significant fall in foreign employment.

Local employment also dropped slightly due to an unprecedented fall in headcounts in trade and tourism- related industries.

MP for West Coast GRC Patrick Tay said in a Facebook post yesterday that these figures do not fully reflect the ramifications of Covid-19 and the circuit breaker, and he expects both retrenchment and unemployment to increase over the remaining quarters of 2020.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo said the shorter work week and temporary layoff arrangements will likely continue until safe distancing measures are totally lifted.

She said this way, employers may quickly reengage the manpower they need once conditions improve.

"This also helps employers avoid additional costs from hiring and training new employees when the need returns."

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.