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VIRUS OUTBREAK

China goes all out to avert unemployment crisis

State firms pushed to create new jobs, grads sent to work in countryside, people nudged into online business

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According to figures compiled by the government, 5.9 million graduates out of the more than eight million that finished university this year were still jobless at the end of June.

Beijing

THE Chinese government is pulling out all the stops to help as many people find employment.

From sending graduates to work in the countryside, to pushing people to sell online or demanding state-owned companies create more jobs, Beijing has launched a series of measures to avoid an unemployment crisis.

Government statistics point to a difficult job market these days, especially for young graduates and poorer, less-educated people who do not have access to white-collar jobs.

While China's economy has bounced back with retail sales now seeing positive growth, the rebound has proved uneven elsewhere.

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The focus of the government-led stimulus has been on supply rather than demand, leaving those consumers with little spending power particularly vulnerable.

The official unemployment figure stood at 5.1 per cent in August, slightly higher than the previous month. The statistics leaves out rural unemployment, migrant and unregistered workers.

The issue is particularly sensitive in China, as the Communist Party has pledged that it will provide job opportunities for all.

The government has admitted that graduates and many of China's migrant and part-time workers still represent a challenge on this front.

According to figures compiled by the government, 5.9 million graduates out of the more than eight million that finished university this year were still jobless at the end of June.

A report published by job-search platform Zhaopin and the Development Research Center said that job postings for graduates were down 7.1 per cent from July 2019 to June 2020, with the total number of job seekers up 35.2 per cent.

As such, the government has asked all state companies to participate in creating new opportunities, especially for graduates.

All four of China's state-owned banks have upped their openings by 10 to 15 per cent this year compared to last year, even as they are pressured financially by stringent credit conditions.

The country's other state-owned firms have vowed to provide at least a million jobs.

"This is in direct response to the government's call to protect jobs," said Tang Jianwei, a Shanghai-based analyst at Bank of Communications' research institute.

"Even though the big banks are facing pressure on their own earnings, they still need people to develop the business. Also, it's important for them to assume social responsibility."

Other initiatives pushed by the government include boosting army recruitment, promoting entrepreneurship, and bolstering opportunities in grassroots jobs.

Beijing now estimates that are around 200 million flexible workers in the country. That figure hides many disparities, with some of these workers employed but only for a few hours a week.

"I closed my restaurant due to the pandemic and have become a Didi driver", said a man who only wanted to be known as Mr Weng, a 49-year-old worker in the Chinese capital. Didi is the Chinese equivalent of Uber.

"It's very difficult to make a decent living. I have to work 15 hours a day, six days a week to make 10,000 yuan (S$2,002)," he added. "I hope this will be only a temporary solution".

Beijing is also pushing the unemployed to look for other types of flexible jobs such as street vending, or becoming online entrepreneurs.

In July, the government created the job title, "online marketing professionals", in a bid to keep official numbers down.

Chinese short video and streaming app Kuaishou reported on July 22 that daily active users for its livestreaming function rose 70 million from the end of 2019 to 170 million in six months.

"At present, there is a serious polarisation of incomes in live-streaming commerce. Behind the spotlight on these jobs are unequal returns," according to Douyin, which is owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance.

Earlier this year, Boss Zhipin, another Chinese online job listing site, said in a half-year industry report that more than 70 per cent of live-streaming hosts worked 10 to 12 hours a day, but made less than 10,000 yuan a month. Some of the top hosts, however, made 10 times as much.

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