Taiwan's jobless nightmare

By Michael Bristow, BBC News, Monday 5 November 2001, 10:40 GMT

In June this year Courtney Chen became another statistic when she was made redundant by a small export firm in Taipei.

Her company, which exports computer hardware across the world, had been losing orders all year before it decided to get rid of most of its workers.

The 26-year-old said: For a long time I had thought about changing jobs, but my boss kept reminding me how it wasn't easy to find another—and then I was made redundant.

Another family member is also having financial difficulties. Her aunt, who sells vegetables, has lost two-thirds of her income this year because unemployed workers are setting up their own stalls.

Record figures

But the family is not the only one which has had to adjust to Taiwan's recent economic downturn.

The island's jobless rate hit a record 5.26% in September; last year's jobless rate of 2.99% was previously the highest in the country's modern history.

Forklift truck driver The government is boosting spending on construction projects

The island's worst economic slump has particularly hit low and semi-skilled workers, but even people at the higher end of the pay scale are being affected.

Jed Van Voorhis, of recruitment firm Templar International Consultants, said his firm had seen an increase in the number of jobless people looking for work.

Some people are having to seriously rethink their careers, he said, adding companies were also not as keen to take on workers in the current economic climate.

Markets are not growing at the rate they were growing last year, therefore firms are not calling us to recruit.

Mr Van Voorhis said his firm has done 30% less business this year compared to last.

The slump is even affecting people who are employed. Workers are finding it more difficult to change jobs and, in some cases, have to accept reduced pay and conditions.

Global downturn

Taiwan's hi-tech, export-oriented economy has suffered this year because of the global economic downturn. The terrorist attacks in the US have further depressed demand, making recovery unlikely in the short term.

The government is tackling the problem by improving unemployment benefits, and by expanding construction projects.

But the island's economy is also being affected by structural changes.

Office workers Even people with jobs are suffering from reduced pay and conditions

More and more firms are relocating to mainland China, which has lower labour costs, leaving Taiwanese workers out in the cold.

Kao Yueh-shi, from the Council for Economic Planning and Development, said the government was trying to cope with this change by encouraging more knowledge-based industries.

It has embarked on a long-term programme to retrain unskilled workers to provide a greater labour pool for hi-tech firms, she said.

The basic aim is to revive economic activity in the long term. It's very important to prepare for the next high tide.

Too little, too late

But the good times, if they do arrive again, will come too late for some.

One Taipei county self-employed man, who did not want to be named, is currently in hiding with his wife and two children because of their money troubles.

When the slump started affecting orders for his home-security firm, the businessman borrowed about £20,000 from an illegal money-lender to see him through.

Unfortunately, this did not prevent his company collapsing, leaving a mountain of unpaid bills which forced him to flee the loan sharks.

As one analyst put it: This is the first time Taiwan has had such a recession. Many people are pretty depressed at the moment. The only thing they can do is look to the future.