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Friday, May 6, 2011

Quake disguises unemployed numbers

Quake disguises unemployed numbers

Last updated 05:00 06/05/2011
Business leaders say thousands more Cantabrians are likely to be unemployed after the devastating earthquake than the 22,600 in official statistics at the end of March.

But it is not known how many are unemployed because no statistics are available.

Statistics New Zealand released the March quarter household labour force survey (HLFS) yesterday, which estimated 22,600 are unemployed in the Canterbury regional council area. But that did not take into account the quake's impact.

The increase was only 1100 from the 21,500 unemployed at the end of December.

Canterbury's official unemployment rate is 6.4 per cent at March 31, not seasonally adjusted, but Canterbury economist Robin Clements said it could be 10 per cent and might be higher.

The quake stopped the Government department surveying 800 of 2200 households in Canterbury for the HLFS. It estimated unemployment numbers using complicated statistical methods not accounting for the quake.

The Government's earthquake support subsidy packages have been a lifeline to Canterbury workers in quake-damaged businesses, which kept dole numbers down, but they are now climbing. The first eight-week subsidy package which supported 65,000 employees at about 6000 businesses did not expire until April 18.

The second six-week more tightly targeted subsidy package does not end until May 31.

Therefore a more accurate picture of the destruction of jobs will not be revealed until the June quarter's HLFS is released.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said he was pleased to see employment had increased nationally, with the economy moving in the right direction.

Canterbury unemployment was obviously increasing and would continue to in the short-term, he said.

"I don't know by how much, because there is no statistics. I would guess we are likely seeing thousands of people joining the ranks of the unemployed."

Townsend said that was in the context of the biggest national disaster the economy had ever faced. But increasing opportunities would occur for employment, as the region moved into the recovery phase. The chamber, in a joint venture with the Canterbury Development Corporation, has set up Recovery Canterbury to help quake-hit firms.

Everyone working with these business was aware of their plight and the difficulty of keeping staff on. "It's fair to say a lot of businesses are absolutely committed in terms of dealing with the environment they are operating in, and making the adjustments," Townsend said.

Canterbury's Council of Trade Union spokesman Marty Braithwaite said a significant number of people who had lost their jobs were not showing up in the statistics. The CTU expected unemployment numbers to jump from the end of May, when the Government's support packages expired.

The numbers collecting the unemployment benefit in Canterbury have risen from 5536 at the end of March to 6326 on April 29.

Acting Canterbury regional commissioner Karen Bartlett said the Government's earthquake support subsidy had supported thousands of employees in the aftermath of the quake. Those losing jobs would not necessarily qualify for the unemployment benefit, depending on the income of a spouse or partners and their circumstances.

But significantly more people were applying for the benefit since the first earthquake support package ended in mid-April. A lot of people applying for the benefit were finding jobs, and were off it quite quickly.

There was a noticeable increase in jobs in administration, retail, hospitality and unskilled positions.


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