Jobless fall linked to part-time work

and WANDA SZETOA SMALL fall in unemployment between March and May was most likely the result of an increase in part-time work, the Government said yesterday.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was estimated at 2.9 per cent - a fall of 0.2 percentage points from the February-April period.

The February-April figure was adjusted upwards from the provisional three per cent.

But the underemployment rate rose from 1.5 per cent to 1.9 per cent, indicating a rise in temporary jobs.

Tang Kwong-yiu, a government economist, said the recent rise in the unemployment rate was apparently tapering off.

But he added: 'I think the fall may not be that significant to lead us to conclude that a down trend is developing.' He said preliminary analysis of the figures suggested the fall was concentrated in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

However, the underlying decline in the number of jobs in both sectors continues.

He said: 'It is a long standing phenomenon already. It may be that some workers have shifted from full-time work into taking part-time jobs.' During February-April, the number of unemployed was estimated at 84,600. Of this 4,200 were first-time job-seekers while the number of underemployed was estimated at 45,600.

The estimates are based on a quarterly survey of 12,600 households or 43,100 persons.

'The figures reflect nothing new at all,' said Chan Yuen-han, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions.

They only showed the difficulties of finding a job were continuing.

'Nine out of 10 people tell me the same thing over and over again when I meet them in the markets or restaurants,' Ms Chan said.

'If they are not employed, they find it hard to find jobs. If they are still employed, they feel that they are at the edge of losing their jobs,' she said.

Governor Chris Patten, who visited an employment services centre in Tsuen Wan yesterday, was guarded in his comments on the jobless figures.

'I think it is very dangerous for people to make a generalisation about one month's figures, either when the figures look better or when they look worst,' Mr Patten said.

'So I just think that it is unwise to make a great claim whether the figures move in either direction,' he said.

Employment protection for unfairly dismissed workers and pregnant mothers will hinge on employers' reactions in a Labour Advisory Board meeting next week.

The Government has said it will not support the proposals by legislator Lee Cheuk-yan unless the board does so.