Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Jobless rate little changed at 4.92 percent last month

BLOOMBERG WITH STAFF WRITER

Taiwan's jobless rate was little changed last month and may fall in coming months as the government takes on extra workers to help cushion the economy from the impact of SARS, which is curbing consumption in Asia.

The rate was little changed at 4.92 percent, the government said in a statement. That compares with Taiwan's all-time high of 5.35 percent recorded in August last year.

The number of people out of work was 493,000, down from 509,000 in March.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is counting on increased spending to meet his goal of cutting the jobless rate to 4.5 percent this year from a record 5.2 percent last year.

The government last month said it plans to add about 90,000 temporary civil service jobs, which would be financed by an NT$20 billion (US$577 million) additional budget.

"With the government's spending the jobless rate has a chance to fall to less than 5 percent this year," Chen Jin-cherng (陳金城), a deputy director at the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting & Statistics, said at a press briefing.

On May 2, the government also got lawmakers' approval to spend NT$58.4 billion on a public works program designed to create about 10,000 more jobs. The public construction budget approved was NT$8.4 billion more than proposed.

The government also set up an NT$50 billion fund to help pay medical costs and business losses resulting from the SARS epidemic.

"The government's spending boost can help dress up the figures in the short term," said Lucas Lee, an economist at Barits International Securities Corp (倍利投信).

But one job market watcher said unemployment is expected to keep rising for next few months.

"The SARS outbreak has impacted several business sectors and therefore we expect jobless rates in May and June will see an obvious jump," said Rocky Yang (楊基寬), general manager of 104 Job Bank Corp (104人力銀行).

The job bank's latest survey showed that 15 percent of the nation's companies have decided to suspend recruitment plans until the SARS threat eased.

Between May 12 and May 15, 104 Job Bank polled 842 human resource executives.

The travel, hotel, retail and restaurant sectors are hardest hit, as many companies have been forced to cut salaries and send staff home for unpaid vacations.

Statistics also showed that job opportunities in the market are down 5 percent from the same period last year.

Taking students scheduled to graduate and apply for entry-level jobs next month or in July into consideration, the unemployment rate is very likely to jump again, Yang said.

In the current environment many people are concerned about losing their jobs.

"I don't know how long I can keep my job," said securities house employee Shen Mei-lin (沈美玲).

Afraid of being laid-off during the SARS-induced recession, Lin Chien-pang (林建邦), an official at a foreign medical supply company, recently resigned and opened his own beverage stand.

"Many middle-aged people like me quit their jobs and open their own small business to avoid an abrupt dismissal," Lin said. "People tend to count on themselves [rather] than others in such [an] economic situation."

To avoid catching the disease, consumers are staying home.

That's hurting sales for stores, restaurants and travel agencies, prompting them to fire workers.

SARS has infected about 8,000 people worldwide, killing more than 660, and China and Hong Kong, which together are Taiwan's No. 1 export market, account for about 90 percent of the cases. Most shipments to China from Taiwan go through Hong Kong because of transport restrictions.

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