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Open Letter to Minister re Statistics on Unemployment

25.05.2016

Below is a copy of our letter to Minister of Labour criticizing the State’s way of counting the unemployed.


 Minister of Labour, Hon. Sudesh Callychurn,


Dear Sir,


 We write this open letter to you to put on record our concern about the misleading nature of Government statistics on “unemployment”.


 We refer to your comment that many people, who already have jobs, get their cards stamped at the Biro Anplwa just so that they are on the list for Government jobs. We do not challenge this. It is true. But the deduction that the 48,000 people registered with your Biro Anplwa is an under-estimate of unemployment (L’Express 20 May) is not true at all. We will show you why.


 Statistics are supposed, inter alia, to warn the Authorities of problems – mass anguish or impending rebellion, for example. But the State, until now, uses unemployment statistics to mask the facts, instead of exposing them.


 There are, as you point out, two sets of statistics on unemployment. In LALIT’s view, both ways of counting who is out-of-work are a gross under-statement of the reality on the ground. Both sets of statistics fail to reflect the cruel truth, and instead hide the hard facts.


 So let’s start with the Biro Anplwa. In our experience, most unemployed people no longer register. You, yourself concede this, saying only 44%, who Statistics Mauritius count as “unemployed”, register with your Offices. 56% don’t. Most of the Biro Anplwa have closed down over the years. This makes it very difficult to sign up – transport is costly, and finding the office difficult. The truth is most unemployed people no longer have any hope of getting a job through the Offices. They have often been through Work-fare, then followed various courses. They have applied for jobs for weeks or months on end, and have finally given up. LALIT discovered the truth when our branches a few years ago did thorough, random neighbourhood door-to-door enquiries in 6 neighbourhoods. The bosses (see MCB Focus Feb 2016) have a similar estimate to ours of 40% of people who are not participating in the economy. This means they are unemployed in the ordinary sense of the word. And not 7.9%. Amongst women, the figure is around 55%. These people, though unemployed, do not, in the main, go to your Biro Anplwa, and are not “unemployed” by the Statistics Mauritius definition, which you cross check with.


 The Statistics Mauritius figures are based on a totally far-fetched definition. The ILO uses this definition for estimating who is still 100% in the peasantry and who has started to move into the cash economy; they suggest asking if someone has worked “ONE HOUR in the previous week” for money (or for something “in kind”, or has tried to sell something like vegetables/clothing for one hour in the previous week). The question is useful, no doubt, for countries like Madagascar, China or India where, until a generation ago, 9 out of 10 people lived in the peasantry. It is not at all helpful as a true indicator of unemployment in a capitalist economy like Mauritius. It simply masks the problem. Every time Statistics Mauritius publishes its figures, like the recent one of 7.9% unemployment, instead of hiding behind the ILO misleadingly, it should be made to put in bold letters that they define as “in work” anyone who does as little as one hour work per week! When we say people are in employment, we expect it to be for a 40 or 45-hour-week, or for heavy manual work, a 30-hour-week. Less than this is not a proper job on which someone can repay NHDC, feed and clothe a family on a regular basis. That is what the statistics should reflect – the ordinary definition of “li ena travay”.


 Anyway, to continue our argument: It is half of only those who Statistics Mauritius finds to be working less than one hour per week, who also go to you to get their cards stamped at Biro Anplwa; thus supposedly confirming your own statistics. (This irrelevant number, half of the 7.9%, then doubles when people who are already in work but who want to be considered for a proper job in Government sign up. They want, quite reasonably, to know where their NHDC-loan-repayment money, for example, will be coming from in a year or so’s time.) The fact that both statistics hover around 45,000 is no more than a statistical artefact. Both figures are a poor reflection of two things: the high percentage of people not contributing to the economy, and more importantly, the huge percentage of people suffering because of not having a regular income to look after their family with.


 Perhaps a nation-wide debate could be launched on the definition of “employment” and “unemployment”? But, in the meantime, no-one should be misled by the “7.9% unemployed”, when to qualify as employed, you need to only to work ONE HOUR per week.  


 


Yours sincerely,


Lindsey Collen


for LALIT 23 May 2016


cc Director, Statistics Mauritius, Press.