Unionists demanded immediate help yesterday from labour officials after a survey showed there were three times more jobless than the Government estimated. And among the unemployed, almost half had been laid off for more than six months and many did not think they would secure jobs in the near future. The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said the situation was much worse than the Government pictured and predicted it could lead to social unrest. 'We have reached a critical moment. Both the Government's and our figures showed the jobless rate to be the highest for three years. 'What we need is action, not talk,' said Chan Yuen-han, a provisional legislator and the federation's vice-chairman. The federation interviewed about 1,400 of its members last month and results released yesterday revealed 12 per cent of them were unemployed. The figure was the highest since late 1995 when a survey conducted by the federation found the rate stood at 13.1 per cent. In the same period of last year, the federation found 9.6 per cent of members jobless. The underemployment rate also soared from 5.9 per cent in the same period of last year to 8.1 per cent. Federation chairman Cheng Yiu-tong said: 'The Government is trying to cover up the high jobless rate. It classifies women aged between 30 and 40 without jobs as housewives and men aged between 40 and 50 without jobs as early retired. These people are able to work and they want to work.' Mr Cheng said the Government should consider introducing immediate measures such as designating areas for unemployed people to set up business in temporary flea markets. The survey also found most people were low-income earners before they lost their jobs, with 67 per cent saying they earned $10,000 or below and 17 per cent $5,000 or below. 'These people earned less and saved less. They are not financially strong to face long-term unemployment,' he said. 'They will suffer, and they may pose a danger to Hong Kong's law and order if the situation continues.' Unemployment officially stands at 3.5 per cent.