By Lee Hui Chieh
UNEMPLOYMENT and retrenchment rates in the first three months of this year are likely to be higher than in the last three months of last year, Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Sunday.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the release of the first quarter's figures this month, he said the economy was not yet out of the woods. He also noted that more retrenchment notices went out in the first quarter than in the previous one.
In the final quarter of last year, unemployment was 3.7 per cent for Singaporeans, up slightly from the 3.3 per cent from the third quarter.
If laid-off foreigners are included, the number of people retrenched in the final quarter of last year would be 7,500, three times more than the quarter before.
Earlier estimates for the number of people laid off in the first three months of this year have been put at more than 10,000.
With the downturn expected to last a few more quarters, Mr Gan said stemming unemployment and retrenchments and helping workers cope with the downturn were top on his list of priorities now.
He said: 'What's more important now is to focus on managing the downturn; managing costs so we can save more jobs.'
He wants more employers and workers on board the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience, which gives employers higher training subsidies so they will retrain rather than retrench workers.
The four-month-old programme, which has enrolled more than 43,000 workers from over 700 companies so far, has been successful in staving off some retrenchments by helping companies save costs. He said some of them may have decided to defer making the decision.
Beyond the immediate crisis, the minister - newly promoted to his post just last week from an acting capacity - also plans to improve workplace safety and to encourage employers to hire more older workers and women.