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China Unemployment Situation 'Grim' - 2002-04-29

China's government says the country faces a "grim" unemployment situation over the next few years, with millions more people thrown out of work. The gloomy assessment comes just as the People's Republic is getting ready to celebrate its Labor Day holiday.

A top Chinese labor official says the country faces its worst-ever unemployment pressure over the next four years with official urban unemployment tripling to about 20 million people.

Labor Vice Minister Wang Dongjin tells state media that more than 12 million new workers are joining the labor force each year at a time when millions of poorly educated workers have already been laid off by failing state-owned firms. That figure is on top of 150 million surplus workers no longer needed on the farms where most Chinese live.

Experts on China's economy, like Christian Murck, Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said strong economic growth will alleviate the situation by creating new jobs, and retraining people with obsolete skills. "If they are able as a nation to generate substantial economic growth and if the government can take some of that surplus in the form of tax revenues and use it to help people through this adjustment," he said.

China's government says its economy is growing more that seven per cent this year, faster than almost any other country in the world.

Labor Vice Minister Wang says the hot economy will create an impressive eight million new jobs, but admits many more are needed. And many of those new jobs require new skills that will be difficult for poorly-educated laid-off workers or former farm hands to learn.

Labor officials say China will convene a national conference later this year to hammer out new policies and ideas to generate jobs.

As grim as the official figures are, some scholars say the actual numbers may be even worse. They point out the official statistics do not include millions of under-employed workers who are sent home by troubled state firms, but kept on official payrolls with only a token welfare payment.

Growing labor unrest represents one of the largest threats to China's ruling Communist Party as it gets ready for a major leadership change later this year. In March, thousands of angry workers demonstrated in China's northeastern "rust belt" cities complaining about unpaid wages and promised benefits. Many smaller labor demonstrations have taken place across China in the past few years.