Drought and disease menace job prospects
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Drought and disease menace job prospects

Struggling farm sector can't be relied on to absorb workers, says NESDC

Dry rice stalks stand in Nakhon Luang district of Ayutthaya as the province suffers one of the worst droughts in decades. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Dry rice stalks stand in Nakhon Luang district of Ayutthaya as the province suffers one of the worst droughts in decades. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Thailand’s employment market is facing myriad risks this year, with widespread drought, poor exports, the delay of the 2020 fiscal budget and the highly contagious coronavirus outbreak weighing on jobs.

Thosaporn Sirisamphand, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), said the agricultural sector usually helps absorb unemployment, but this year the sector may not offer any assistance because of the widespread drought.

“Droughts will hurt employment in the agricultural sector and dampen farmers' incomes,” said Mr Thosaporn. “The Thai Meteorological Department stated the drought this year has been the worst in 60 years in terms of water supply from dams and reservoirs as of the end of January. The supply was 18.4 billion cubic metres, which accounted for 25.9% of total water storage capacity. This is the lowest level in four years.”

The coronavirus outbreak, meanwhile, has crippled the tourism sector.

Mr Thosaporn said that if the outbreak cannot be controlled, employment in the three main service sectors: wholesale/retail, transport and hotels and restaurants will be hurt.

The contagion and the ensuing panic may also have an impact on employment in the manufacturing sector, he said.

“The new virus outbreak has been taking a heavy toll on the tourism industry and disrupts international trade and the global supply chain,” he said. “We expect the epidemic will result in lower job creation in the first quarter and continue until April.”

Mr Thosaporn said it was still too early to project the unemployment rate for the first quarter and the whole year, as the agency needs to keep monitoring the effect of the disease.

He said employment in the export industry, which is expected to expand by only 1.4% this year, could suffer, while the delay in budget disbursement, especially investment funds for new state projects, will cause the overall economy in 2020 to grow more slowly than expected. This will be especially bad news for the construction sector.

On Friday, the NESDC reported 37.5 million people were employed in the fourth quarter of 2019, down by 1.1% year-on-year from the fourth quarter of 2018. This marks the third consecutive quarter of decreases.

Employment in the agricultural sector dropped by 1.6%, while employment in non-agricultural sectors decreased by 0.9%.

The official unemployment rate, which critics say has little relationship to real conditions, was still relatively low at 1.04% of the total workforce or 370,000 people. That was an uptick from 0.93% in the same period of 2018.

In the fourth quarter, the workforce totalled 38 million, down 1.1% year-on-year.

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