Asian labourers have little to celebrate on May Day
May 1, 2009, 9:40 GMT
Bangkok - Asia's unemployment rates may not look as shocking as those in the United States and Europe, but this May Day the region's labour force had little to celebrate and plenty to fear.
Real unemployment figures are notoriously hard to come by in Asia, a continent where few out-of-work labourers receive unemployment benefits so joblessness is poorly registered.
But with economies slowing, exports to the West in decline and factories closing or cutting back production, rising unemployment is starting to show even in official statistics.
China's state media estimates that roughly 20 to 30 million migrant labourers have lost jobs in the wake of the global financial crisis, out of an estimated total of at least 130 million wandering workers.
This army of migrant labour is not included in official unemployment statistics, which cover only the roughly 40 per cent of China's 1.3 billion people who live in designated urban areas.
The government said the urban registered unemployment rate hit 4.3 per cent at the end of March, and estimates the official urban unemployment rate will be below 4.6 per cent this year, which would still make it China's highest official level of unemployment since 1980.
In Hong Kong the jobless rate is now at 5.2 per cent, its highest level since 2003 when unemployment hit an all-time high of 8.7 per cent in the aftermath of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis.
Taiwan's jobless rate hit a record high of 5.81 per cent in March, as the island's exports continued their tumble.
In March, Japan's jobless rate grew at the fastest pace in more than 40 years, hitting a four-year high of 4.8 per cent.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications there were 3.35 million people without a job in March, of whom some 670,000 people had been laid off just that month.
In South Korea the unemployment rate had risen to 3.9 per cent in February.
'The number of workers on payroll in February 2009 declined by 142,000 year-on-year, affected by weak domestic demand and decreased exports,' the Ministry of Strategy an Finance said in the April issue of its monthly Economic Bulletin.
Singapore's unemployment rate jumped to 3.2 per cent in March, up from 2.5 per cent in December.
From January to March this year 12,600 people lost their jobs, compared to 9,410 in the fourth quarter 2008 and 2,420 in the first quarter 2008, showing a rising trend in redundancies.
Most retrenched workers came from the manufacturing sector, which laid off 9,000 people, mainly from the electronics industry, the ministry said.
'If global demand continues to be weak, we must expect more job losses, despite all our measures,' Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his May Day message.
Vietnam's unemployment is estimated to increase by five times this year from the 2008 figure.
The government has projected a total of 400,000 job losses for 2009, but this forecast only accounts for the nation's formal economy. The informal economy, in which millions work in areas such as street vending and craft villages, remains uncounted.
Thailand, where the economy has been hit by falling exports and rising political tension, saw its economy slow 5 per cent in the first quarter of 2009.
Some 300 factories closed down in the same period, laying off 28,000 workers, and another 410 factories are on the verge of collapse, endangering the livelihoods of 177,191 workers, Labour Ministry officials warned on Thursday.
The kingdom's official unemployment was 710,000 in February, up considerably from 560,000 a year ago. Unemployment is expected to reach 1.2 million in 2009, or 4.2 per cent of the official labour force.
In the Philippines, thousands of people joined May Day rallies to denounce the failure of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to protect the rights of workers and unabated corruption in her government.
The Philippines' unemployment rose to 7.7 per cent in January as tens of thousands of Filipinos lost their jobs or failed to find work amid the global crisis.
The National Statistics Office said the actual number of jobless people increased to 2.85 million in January from 2.67 million a year ago.
Unemployment in Australia rose to 5.2 per cent in February from 4.8 per cent in January as the downturn began to bite.
Sydney-based consultancy Access Economics reckons that by the end of next year unemployment will have doubled to around 1 million and the unemployment rate will be 8.5 per cent.
Two years ago Australia had its lowest jobless rate since the 1970s and guest workers were being brought in to staff hospitals, fast food restaurants, mines and abattoirs. Now, the government is cutting migrant numbers to lessen the impact of the downturn.
New Zealand's unemployment rate of 4.7 per cent is tipped to continue rising as the economy remains in recession and reach about 8 per cent in 2011 before falling back.