Growth in employment rate still a concern

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

THE labour market showed some improvement in July with the unemployment rate decreasing for the second consecutive month at 4.7%, but economists are still weary as the recovery rate is still rather slow.

DM-Analytics Sdn Bhd senior researcher Zouhair Rosli said the so-called “economic recovery” is not being experienced by the self-employed.

Expressing concern that the pace of job growth is slower, he stressed that a “new normal” is needed for the self-employed group.

“The new normal in the workplace is mainly social distancing, but for the self-employed, income-generating assistance such as capital to restart their business and online platform (if possible) needs to be widened,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia revealed that the unemployment rate fell to 4.7% in July from 4.9% in June and 5.3% in May. The number of unemployed individuals in July stood at 745,100, a decline of 28,200 from the previous month.

In July, the number of employed persons continued to grow by 0.6% month-on-month (MoM) after recording a growth of 0.7% in June. The number of employed persons went up to 15.07 million, while the number of own-account workers decreased by 36,900 MoM to 2.38 million persons.

This group, which has continued to decline since April 2020, comprises mostly daily wage earners working in farmers’ markets, night markets and stalls; freelancers, as well as smallholders. They were reported to be the most affected group by the Covid-19 pandemic, read the Key Statistics of Labour Force in Malaysia — July 2020 report.

Zouhair said this will improve soon and that employment figures are just a number.

“If you work for at least an hour per week, you are considered as employed. What we need to be concerned about is the quality of employment activities.

“For example, even before the pandemic, we did not create enough skilled jobs for our graduates. The number of underemployed graduates (doing SPM-qualification jobs) increased from 800,000 in 2016 to 1.13 million in 2019.

“If they lack the required skills, employers must provide training for them. No graduate in the world has enough experience before he or she actually works.”

Zouhair added that employers often cite the lack of experience or skills as an excuse to underpay their workers.

“We must address the issues of underemployment and underpayment that already existed even before the pandemic, or else the ‘economic recovery’ that we are currently experiencing will be meaningless.”

UniKL Business School Assoc Prof Dr Aimi Zulhazmi Abdul Rashid said the latest unemployment rate is a positive indication that the economy is fast recovering on a V-curve.

He said it is an indication that many economic sectors have restarted, including services, food and beverage, entertainment, sports and education, resulting in better employment figures.

“Compared to July 2019, definitely this year is slower, but this is a different era economically and health-wise.

“From an almost standstill in April, the nation’s economy is moving in a positive direction, albeit isolated spurts of Covid-19 clusters around the country,” he told TMR.

Aimi Zulhazmi said the nation’s economy is steadily improving as indicated by positive numbers in the second half of 2020 (2H20) versus the 1H20.

“The recovery is highly reliant on the global Covid-19 development and hopefully next year we will see a full turnaround.”