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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Jobless may hit 300,000

A NEW Credit Suisse report has predicted an astonishing 300,000 jobs could be lost in Singapore this year and next.

Most of the affected would be foreigners, who would then have to leave the country, leading to a drop in Singapore's population, it said.

But other economists and industry body heads say the Credit Suisse figure is extreme, even in an unprecedented crisis such as this one.

Monday's report was written by Singapore-based Credit Suisse economists Cem Karacadag and Kun Lung Wu.

They estimated that notwithstanding government action, a deep, economy-wide recession will mean that 160,000 jobs could be lost in the services sector, another 100,000 from manufacturing and about 40,000 in construction over this year and next.

Most of the job losses would be from the 725,000 new jobs created over the past five years and were filled mainly by foreigners, who make up a quarter of the population here.

'As harsh as our assumptions may seem, they only imply that the economy gives up all of the jobs it created in 2008 and a portion of the new jobs in 2007,' they wrote.

Of the total, 200,000 would be foreigners and permanent residents (PRs) who, assuming they leave Singapore, would reduce its population by around 160,000 to 4.68 million.

The drop in population would have serious implications for any economic recovery as it would lead to a fall in private consumption, a surge in unemployment to 5.6 per cent in 2010 - it was 2.2 per cent last September - and a plunge in residential property prices.

The figures represent a loss of about 10 per cent of Singapore's workforce of just under three million. By comparison, the Asian financial crisis led to job losses of over 30,000, or about 1.4 per cent of the workforce.

However, other economists say the numbers are far too bearish - even given the severity of the global crisis. OCBC economist Selena Ling said: 'The socio-economic implications of that would be severe... The figures discount the Government policy responses which would kick in before we get to that stage.'

CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun said: 'Our labour growth has been well above trend... so job losses of that magnitude are not unimaginable.

'But the Government has indicated that it is willing to dip into the reserves, and it has shown a strong response to the crisis right from the word go.'

Still they believe that in a worst case scenario, job losses here could reach 100,000.

President of the Singapore Manufacturers' Federation Renny Yeo also disputed the numbers. He said Singapore has seen growth in higher-end manufacturing industries such as biotech, and renewable energy which are not as susceptible to a dip in consumer demand. The manufacturing sector employs about 230,000.

The report comes just days before the Budget announcement on Thursday, which will set the tone for how the Government plans to tackle a worsening recession.

In Parliament on Monday, ministers faced questions from MPs over the job market. Acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong said that job losses this year could exceed 30,000, while Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said more than 30,000 new jobs would be created this year.

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