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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
'Two million jobs to go in Asia'
Japanese workers take a break
More than half the job losses in Asia this year are likely to be in Japan
More than two million workers can expect to lose their jobs in Asia this year, with Japanese workers and women across the region taking the brunt of the cutbacks, a survey suggests.

The Singapore-based Straits Times newspaper compiled government data from 10 Asian countries - Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Bangladesh.

Jobs under threat
Japan 1m
Indonesia 400,000
Bangladesh 400,000
South Korea 200,000
Malaysia 90,000
Taiwan 80,000
Philippines 50,000
Hong Kong 34,130
Singapore 20,000
Thailand 15,000
It found that unemployment in the 10 countries could rise by more than 12%, or 2.29 million, to total 21.1million by the end of the year, it reported.

One million Japanese workers will lose their jobs, half the region's total, it said.

Women workers will be hard hit. At least 75% of those laid off in Malaysia so far this year have been women, who make up the majority of semi-skilled electronics workers.

And in Bangladesh's threatened $4bn garment-making export industry, the workforce is 90% female.

Foreign workers are also expected to suffer heavily, Already, trade unions are lobbying for a freeze on the recruitment of foreign workers in Malaysia and South Korea.

But cutting back on workers from abroad could have an impact on countries such as the Philippines, where pay sent back home to relatives makes an important contribution to the economy.

The Philippines is now forecast to end the year with the highest unemployment in the region, while Malaysia is likely to fare best with 3%.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) predicts that 100,000 Malaysians will be sent back from countries like Singapore and Japan. To help them, it wants the government to block the recruitment of foreign workers except as domestic servants.

Japan's unemployment rises

Japan is expected to suffer the highest number of job losses in the region, with one million jobs disappearing in 2001.

In Japan, unemployment is already rising steadily. During June the number of unemployed rose for the third straight month, reaching 3.38m, up 170,000 from the previous month.

The unemployment rate stayed at a record high of 4.9% in June according to official data.

The government in Tokyo has acknowledged that the jobless rate could exceed 5%.

League table of misery

After Japan, Indonesia and Bangladesh are expected to top the list of job losses, with 400,000 jobs each, while South Korea could lose 200,000 positions.

Of the other countries surveyed by the Straits Times, Malaysia estimates it could lose 90,000 jobs.

Taiwan has the next highest figure, with 80,000, followed by the Philippines with 50,000, Hong Kong with 34,130, Singapore with 20,000 and Thailand with 15,000.

Electronics slowdown

Most jobs will be lost in manufacturing, a crucial export sector for many Asian countries, which has seen profits fall because of the global slowdown, particularly in semiconductors. "Manufacturing, in particular the electronics industry, is the hardest hit," said David Cohen, the director of Asia-Pacific economic forecasts at Standard and Poors.

Taiwan is home to the world's biggest chip-making foundries. It's growth is set to fall to around 2% from almost 6% last year.

But the government of Taiwan says 40% of the increase in joblessness is due to necessary restructuring, not just to the slowdown.

'Unemployment has been increasing in Taiwan for the past few years as we phase out unprofitable traditional industries," Taiwanese Minister without Portfolio Dr Hu Sheng-Cheng told The Straits Times.

'Once it is completed, retrenchment should go down from the middle of next year,' he said.

Better prepared than 1997

South East Asian economies are better able to handle the slump than they were during the 1997-98 crisis, when more than 30m jobs were lost, according to an International Labour Organisation report.

"Foreign reserve positions are not as seriously eroded as compared to 1998. Countries now have comfortable budgets to provide tax cuts and spend on retraining," said Mr Cohen.

The bleak picture extends beyond the 10 countries surveyed.

Economists expect Australia's unemployment rate to exceed 7% for the first time in nearly two years when July jobless figures are published on Thursday.

Mixed picture in China

The survey did not include China or India.

China may benefit from companies relocating there to cut costs, but the number of jobs created will be dwarfed by the 8 million jobs lost annually in the shake out of loss-making state enterprises, the Straits Times said.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Business
Japan's jobless at record high
23 Jul 01 | Business
Taiwan's economy worsens
10 Jul 01 | Business
Singapore falls into recession
30 Jul 01 | Business
Markets fall after Koizumi's victory
29 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's Koizumi secures victory
29 Jul 01 | Business
Can Koizumi save Japan?
16 Jul 01 | Business
Gloomy outlook for Japan
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