China registered an unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent at the end of last year as rising joblessness continued to be a vexing problem.
The total number of registered unemployed in urban areas reached 6.81 million by year end, not including more than 5.15 million laid-off workers from State-owned enterprises and numerous rural surplus labourers, estimated by some experts to account for 20 per cent of the total rural population, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security
The country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) will do little to help relieve the country's unemployment pressure in the near future, said Wang Dongyan, a senior official with the ministry, yesterday.
"The pressure will be around for years," said Wang, who is in charge of the ministry's information centre.
The total number of employment opportunities shrank 118,000 during the fourth quarter of last year.
Only the service sector saw a 2 per cent increase in job openings, from September to December last year.
Labour demand in the agricultural and industrial sectors dropped 0.5 and 1.2 per cent respectively during the same period, said the ministry.
Though more job opportunities will emerge in the service sector and parts of the manufacturing industry in the coming years, the country's overall employment situation will change little in the coming three to five years, said Vice-Minister Liu Yongfu.
Laid-off workers from State-owned enterprises, urban unemployed and rural surplus labourers will continue to make up the bulk of the country's job seekers in the coming years.
The country's WTO membership will have more impact on industries like banking, insurance, telecommunications, automobile manufacturing and petrochemicals, because of employers' higher educational requirements, said ministry officials.
The Chinese Government will try to maintain the country's urban unemployment rate at around 4.5 per cent this year by creating more than 8 million jobs, according to the ministry.
The central government will employ various ways to create jobs for the unemployed, including offering free re-employment services and promoting community services such as housekeeping and milk delivery, said the ministry.
Wang also noted that governments at all levels will urge the country's foreign enterprises to hire more employees by offering them preferential policies.
The country's private businesses will also become a key channel for employment, according to Wang.
Meanwhile, the government will ensure the timely delivery of pensions of retirees and subsidies for the unemployed, said the ministry.
Last year, the country delivered a total of 205.4 billion yuan (US$24.7 billion) in pensions, with financial assistance of 34.2 billion yuan (US$4.1 billion) from the central government.
More than 104 million people around the country had benefited from unemployment insurance by the end of last year.
The country's medical insurance network, launched in 1998, now covers almost all prefectural cities across the country, serving 85 million people.
(China Daily Hong Kong edition, February 8, 2002)