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Growth in jobless spurs government skills plan

Close to half a million people were unemployed last month, up 99,000 or 1.3% in the same period last year, which is spurring the government to offer skills training for jobless workers.

A total of 496,000 people were jobless last month, a jump of 66,000 from February, according to the National Statistical Office (NSO). The majority of unemployed were men, it said. Of those, 274,000 previously had jobs, mostly in the service and trade sectors. This means the number of people who were previously gainfully employed but found themselves out of work in March was up 49,000 from the year-earlier period, the office said.

It also said 169,000 of the unemployed last month were new university graduates. The situation is also looking bad for them, as the corresponding number last year was 56,000 lower.

Last month there were 222,000 jobless people who have never held jobs before, and new university grads made up a sizeable portion of their ranks.

Meanwhile, Thailand now has around 21 million non-regular or "informal" workers, who are usually underpaid and not granted proper health and welfare benefits, says labour permanent secretary ML Puntrik Smiti. She said these people have gone through life with little financial security and many are unskilled. To brighten their prospects, the Labour Ministry is launching a skills-training programme, one of three policies being pushed to improve their quality of life.

ML Puntrik said many of the informal workers who will be offered the training will be drawn from the 12.5 million low-income people who registered to receive extra state welfare. The ministry estimates up to 9 million of those registered are eligible to apply for the training.

The other policies in the pipeline include labour protection legislation targeting informal workers, which is due to go before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).

Also, the ministry is setting up an integrated system of extending welfare assistance to informal workers nationwide through a panel represented by the workers and government agencies.

The labour protection draft law is expected to be finalised and passed by the assembly this year. The Department of Labour Protection and Welfare is conducting a public hearing on the draft.

In the short term, ML Puntrik said the ministry has agreed to increase compensation payments for informal workers who lose their jobs or their lives. It will be presented as gifts on May Day, she said.

The permanent secretary was speaking at a seminar last week on a strategic management plan for non-regular workers.

Sujin Rungsawang, a representative of an informal workers' group, said around 2 million informal workers, or less than 10%, are registered recipients of social security welfare under the National Social Security Fund Act.

Too few informal workers subscribe to the programme, which provides them access to living assistance and medical care, she said.

Ms Sujin said many informal workers living in remote areas cannot afford to make the trip to the labour office to pay their monthly contributions to the fund. The Social Security Office should open branches in local communities so more can benefit, she said.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Gen Sirichai Distakul said the NLA has accepted a bill amending the Labour Protection Act in its first reading.

Many provisions in the act, enforced for almost 20 years, require a review to deliver comprehensive employment protection for select groups such as students with part-time jobs, as well as people with disabilities and elderly workers, he said.