While the number of workers laid off has dipped in the last two years, the axe has been falling disproportionately on higher-skilled workers.
Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up about three in four or 76 per cent of the locals – Singaporeans and permanent residents – who were retrenched last year, the highest figure in at least a decade.
It rose from 72 per cent in 2017 and is significantly higher than the share of PMETs in the resident workforce, which is about 57 per cent.
This is because the industries shedding workers tend to be dominated by PMETs, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday in its latest labour market report.
National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay also put it down to the rising share of PMETs in the workforce, and the tendency for jobs affected by disruption, restructuring and other factors to be PMET positions. “If you look at the various major layoffs last year, many are in the executive and technician roles,” he said.
The report that showed retrenchments last year were mainly in services, such as financial services.
Observers said PMETs are becoming the new vulnerable group and more needs to be done to mitigate the risk of them being displaced.
OCBC Bank’s head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling said there are policies to help low-skilled blue-collar workers, like the Workfare Income Supplement which tops up their wages, and the progressive wage model which sets minimum pay for different skill levels. But PMETs “are more at the mercy of the markets”, she said.
DBS senior economist Irvin Seah said the policy focus has been on helping PMETs get jobs after being retrenched. “Perhaps we need to re-orientate and focus on mitigating this trend instead,” he said.
He suggested minimising the chances of firms substituting local PMETs with foreign ones by raising the minimum qualifying salary for Employment Pass holders and increasing the length of time firms must advertise jobs on the national jobs portal before they can apply to hire a foreign professional.
The report showed that the rate of re-entry into employment last year – or the share of people who found new work last year within six months of being retrenched – slipped to 62.9 per cent, down from 64.6 per cent in the previous year.
The rates for older workers, PMETs and degree holders were lower, which the ministry attributed to these groups typically spending more time looking for jobs that matched their skills and salary expectations.