Hong Kong’s joblessness shows signs of easing, with the city’s unemployment rate dropping sharply to 6.4 per cent for the February to April period, falling for the second consecutive month as the effects of coronavirus pandemic receded.
The rolling figure for the three months ending in April was down 0.4 percentage points from the January-March period, the Census and Statistics Department revealed on Thursday.
Some 247,500 people were out of work, about 12,300 fewer than for the January to March period. The number of underemployed people fell 15 per cent to 126,600.
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Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the job market saw some improvement as the local coronavirus situation receded.
“Considering that the business receipts of many labour-intensive sectors are still far below the pre-recession levels, the labour market will take time to attain a more visible recovery,” Law said.
He added that pressure on the labour market would gradually ease so long as the Covid-19 situation remained stable. Law also called on people to get vaccinated so activities could resume to normal, allowing for a revival in the consumer and tourism-related sectors.
Battered by the global coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong’s unemployment rate reached 7.2 per cent between December and February – the city’s worst jobless numbers since 2004.
The government relaxed a string of tough social-distancing regulations on February 18, reopening gyms, cinemas and beauty salons, meaning a number of those whose livelihoods were put on hold during the four-month closure were able to get back to work.
During the three-month period ending in April, the government also unveiled its “vaccine bubble”, which tied Covid-19 inoculations to lifting social-distancing rules for certain businesses.
The job market improved in the three months to April 30. The average number of vacancies in the private sector jumped 71.1 per cent year on year to about 72,400, according to data tracked by the Labour Department.
Chinese University economist Professor Terence Chong Tai-leung said there was a marked decline in the unemployment rate though it was not unexpected.
“The drop is rather significant. As some of the social-distancing rules were eased, people in industries such as catering could also get back to work,” he said. “The number of people employed should go back up gradually.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung believed the unemployment rate would hover around a similar level until cross-border travel resumed.
“A lot of people previously employed in travel-related sectors, such as aviation, cross-border travel and catering, are still unable to find jobs that match their skill set,” Luk, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said.
Hong Kong has been in a near lockdown since February last year.
The unionist said jobseekers were also eager to apply to retraining and upskilling programmes involved in financial services and property management and he hoped the government would allocate resources to subsidise such training courses.
Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING Bank, noted the labour force decreased by around 4,400 during the latest three-month period, meaning some people who had been unemployed for a long time had stopped looking for work. In comparison, the labour force grew by around 2,200 in the January to March period.
“It’s not a good sign because more people dropped out of the labour force,” she said. “Although total employment increased, we need to be aware of the drop in the labour force because it could last for a few months.”
She added: “We are in a very slow recovery, job openings are not enough to cater to everyone, and the competition is very high, especially for jobseekers who are older, if they feel like they are unskilled or not suited for the job, they may give up on the job search.”
More than 45 employers will take part in a large job fair organised by the Labour Department on June 1 and 2 at MacPherson Stadium in Mong Kok.
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