MORE than 10,000 workers are expected to be retrenched in the first three months of this year - a number equal to layoffs in an entire year when the economy is booming.
Labour chief Lim Swee Say gave this advance estimate yesterday, ahead of official figures from the Manpower Ministry which will come out only in late April.
The number is an increase from 7,000 layoffs in the previous quarter.
It is also double the 5,000 figure that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave in an interview with CNBC last Friday, which referred only to unionised workers.
Referring to the 5,000 figure, Mr Lim said: 'If you multiply that to include the non-unionised sector, the number would easily exceed 10,000 for the first quarter.'
The retrenchments in this quarter are expected to be mostly from the electronics and manufacturing sectors.
Speaking at a two-day civil service conference on organisational learning, Mr Lim said: 'We cannot stop retrenchments from going up. But we must try our best to help every one of these retrenched workers to go back to the job market, learn new skills, take on a new job.'
Analysts interviewed were not surprised by the 40 per cent increase in layoffs in this quarter compared to the previous quarter.
They expect even more layoffs in the months ahead as the full impact of the global recession becomes felt more deeply here.
DBS Bank economist Irvin Seah said job losses could be much higher than 10,000 if early termination of part-timers and contract workers is included in the calculation.