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Workers feel the pain as SE Asia jobless rates rise

By YANG HAN in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-21 09:19

Authorities in region must do more to aid pandemic-hit sectors, experts say

Filipinos wait their turn to be vaccinated in a bus that has been modified for the purpose in the city of Taguig on Friday. AARON FAVILA/AP

A resurgence in COVID-19 infections and prolonged curbs to control the spread have made the task of shoring up the employment markets of Southeast Asia more challenging, experts said in calling on governments in the region to step up their policy responses.

Reviving the jobs market, especially in hard-hit industries such as tourism, catering and retail, also requires a faster pace of vaccinations to rein in the coronavirus, they said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted regional supply chains due to the travel bans and lockdowns. It has also had an impact on several sectors, such as the tourism-related industry," said Arisman, executive director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, in Indonesia.

In Southeast Asia, where many countries are struggling to contain a new wave of infections, especially after the detection of new COVID-19 variants including Delta, the unemployment rate has been increasing at the macro level, said Arisman, who goes by one name.

In Vietnam, the news website VnExpress reported this month that nearly 31,900 tourism workers in the popular destination Da Nang, in central Vietnam, have been laid off during the country's latest COVID-19 wave that has brought more than 8,000 domestically transmitted cases since late April. More than 90 percent of the city's tourism companies have closed.

The Philippines' Department of Health reported on Sunday 5,803 new infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1,359,015.

In Thailand, where the number of recorded infections topped 200,000 on Tuesday, the unemployment rate climbed to 1.96 percent in the first quarter of 2021, the country's National Economic and Social Development Council reported. It was the highest level since 2009, at the height of the global financial crisis.

The International Labour Organization projects that the ranks of the unemployed will swell to 205 million next year due to the lingering effects of the pandemic, compared with 187 million in 2019.

Ruttiya Bhula-or, associate professor and vice-dean of the College of Population Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the rise in Thailand's unemployment can be largely attributed to the pandemic.

"The longer the COVID-19 pandemic remains, the impact would be even worse," she said, noting that industries such as tourism, retail and manufacturing are among those worst hit.

Limited information

In addition, Ruttiya, who is also the country lead for Thailand at the Global Labor Organization, an international research and policy network on labor, said the unemployment rate only tells limited information about the labor market, as many people, though retaining their jobs, have had pay cuts or are working less.

Noting that Thailand recently approved a $16 billion loan plan to support the government's COVID-19 measures, Ruttiya said even though there is an immediate plan for economic recovery, a clearer long-term plan is needed for improving employment.

Delays in vaccinations may also pose another risk for the recovery of market confidence, she said.

Arisman said the slow pace of vaccination presents a serious hurdle in boosting the job market.

Farther afield in Asia, there has been progress on the vaccinations front. Bangladesh on Saturday resumed inoculation for first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the arrival of a donated second batch of a vaccine from Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm on June 13.

The country had been hit a supply crunch after India halted vaccine exports in April during its own coronavirus emergency.

In Turkey, the country received 5 million more doses of a vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech, the state-run Anadolu agency said on Saturday.

Arisman said that across Southeast Asia support programs for migrant workers are largely lacking. Countries must work together to provide enough support for the group that is among the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

A joint research by the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Development Programme found that the pandemic has increased poverty and unemployment for many migrants and their families.

As many as 180,000 Indonesian migrant workers returned home in 2020, with 75 percent facing unemployment and some households seeing a 60 percent drop in income.

As some regional economies have shown signs of recovery, there are hopes that the job market will improve.

Tulika Tripathi, founder and CEO of hiring platform Snaphunt, said the employment outlook is positive-at least on the digital front.

The number of job postings on Snaphunt, an internet-based remote hiring platform, has more than doubled weekly since March.

Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

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