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Unemployment up in Q2

Thailand's unemployment rate rose in the second quarter as the economic slowdown and widespread drought took their toll.

Job seekers crowd a recent jobs fair held by the Stock Exchange of Thailand and the Association of Thai Securities Companies. Unemployment rose in the second quarter as the economy slowed. WISIT THAMNGERN

The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) yesterday said the second-quarter jobless rate was 1% of the total workforce, up from 0.74% in the same period last year.

The total workforce stood at 38.5 million and 38.4 million in the first and second quarters, respectively, down from 39.1 million and 39.5 million in the year-earlier periods.

Average working hours in the second quarter stood at 44.3 hours per person per week, down by 1% from the same period a year earlier.

Nonetheless, private-sector wages and salaries excluding overtime pay and other benefits rose by 9.8% after inflation.

Household debt slowed in the second quarter in line with economic conditions.

Debt defaults still need close monitoring, said Chutinart Wongsuban, deputy secretary-general of the NESDB, adding that non-performing loans rose by 29.4% to reach 2.5% of outstanding debt.

Credit defaults in the second quarter rose by 50.5%, totalling 12.8 billion baht. Similarly, credit-card balances unpaid for more than three months rose by 28.4% to 7.49 billion baht.

Total outstanding personal consumer credit stood at 3.33 trillion baht, up by 8.8%. But growth has slowed for six straight quarters due to the expiry of the first-time car buyer tax rebate scheme and concerns over future income and employment conditions.

Mrs Chutinart said the unemployment rate in the remaining months of the year was expected to decline as the country's economy improved.

The NESDB predicts economic growth of 4% in the second half, boosted by accelerated budget disbursement and improving exports.

But Mrs Chutinart voiced concern over farm labour productivity, which is rising only marginally. Farm labour makes up 39.6% of the total workforce.

Thailand's labour productivity from 2012-13 averaged 4.1% growth. Though that was higher than the 3% target of the state development plan, the increases occurred mainly in the industrial sector (2.2%) and services (6.6%).

Labour productivity in agriculture rose by just 0.8%.

Last year, labour productivity in the farm sector averaged 27,117 baht per person, while that of the manufacturing and service sectors averaged 353,077 and 149,625 baht, respectively.

Mrs Chutinart said lower productivity in the farm sector caused income disparity and poverty. She urged the government to focus on increasing productivity in the sector.

Solutions for improving agriculture productivity could include technology, innovation, use of machinery in production, soft loans and better management.

Charl Kengchon, managing director of Kasikorn Research Center, said the rise in unemployment in the second quarter could be deemed a case of seasonally low economic activity caused by the rainy weather and school holidays.

With tourism ailing, unemployment recorded a slight upsurge in the first quarter as the prolonged political unrest stifled economic growth, he said.

Economic activity is usually slow in the second quarter before gradually picking up in the third quarter, reaching peak levels in the fourth and first quarters.

Mr Charl said the unemployment rate should fall in the third and fourth quarters, driven by increased production before seasonal festivities and a pickup in public spending.

He said tourism was expected to recover from its second-quarter contraction, although the size of the rebound would depend on how foreign tourists interpreted the political situation.