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Governing by False Unemployment Statistics or Putting a Flimsy Lid on a Volcano


After a previous web article on homelessness called “Governing by False Housing Statistics or Putting a Flimsy Lid on a Volcano” in our News section on 20 April, 2018 (1), Lalit is today publishing a follow-up article on the similar use and abuse by the State and the bosses of statistics on unemployment. Both these articles are key to understanding what Pravind Jugnauth will say in his Budget Speech in two weeks' time.

Typically, Ministers quote Statistics Mauritius to prove how the unemployment rate is, in their view, fairly low (around 7%) and always tending to fall further compared with something or other. Mauritius is doing just fine. Supposedly. People are falling into drug abuse out of pure vice. Petty crime is increasing for no reason at all. Depression and intra-familial violence are both at all time highs, with no explanation? Social problems are so extreme that mainstream observers fly into a panic sporadically, before lulling themselves back into the refrain that Mauritius is doing just fine. So, typically we read that for the fourth quarter of 2017, for example, they estimated unemployment at 6.7%, higher than the rate of 6.6% at the fourth quarter 2016 and lower than the rate of 7.0% at the third quarter of 2017. But what are they measuring? They might just as well, as it turns out, be measuring how many angels can dance on the point of a pin, as Medieval religious scholasticists debated in all seriousness in “the dark ages”.

Anyone walking around a village or a working class urban area can see unemployment before their very eyes. It is not around 7%. So, LALIT, in 2013, noticing the discrepancy, decided to check on Government statistics. Members of six of our branches studied the rate of employment in each neighbourhood by a mini-survey on who had a pay slip. But before getting to the our actual mini-survey, just as in the case of the housing statistics, we found the Statistics Mauritius definition was what was at fault. They can count. But, they are misleading, even mendacious, in what they do count.

Statistics Mauritius informed us in writing that they count someone as “in employment” if he or she works one hour a week. (Technically, this is one hour in the week prior to the survey.) When we said but that is mad. How can you count someone as “in employment” when they work one hour a week? They said, the ILO uses that measure. Firstly, that means the ILO is mad. But the ILO, an old organization – 100 years old – and has used this indicator to get an idea of the rate at which people in the peasantry join the workforce, and get into “employment” or the cash nexus. For that purpose, one hour a week is an indicator of the beginnings of an entry into the cash economy. In fact, it is clear that this is what the figure is used for, because Statistics Mauritius, using the ILO questions, even counts you as employed if you sell vegetables in front of your house for one hour a week! In addition, Statistics Mauritius only counts you as “unemployed” if you are actively looking for work, even if you work less than one hour a week.

All this to say that the definitions that the ILO and the Statistics Mauritius’ use provide a rotten indicator for getting to know what kind of social problems Mauritius is facing because of unemployment – in the ordinary sense of the word i.e. not having a proper job or proper income from work, and thus being on the edge of despair as to how to feed your family. So, 7% or so of people work one hour or more a week. So what?

What the State needs to know is how many people are not working a full week, i.e. 40-hours or 45 hours. But certainly more than say 30 hours a week. People working between, say, 20 and 30 hours could be counted as having part-time employment. Everyone working less than 20 hours a week is basically in unemployment – in the ordinary sense of the word. The Government announces that only 44% of those Statistics Mauritius count as “unemployed” register with your Unemployment 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 did thorough, random neighbourhood door-to-door enquiries in six neighbourhoods. We found some 40% of people who could be working in regular jobs were what they and we considered “unemployed”.

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 around 7%. 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. Income? And then, when it comes to income statistics, what does Statistics Mauritius do? Does it count the income of those people who work one hour a week and over and calculate their monthly income? Surely that is what they should do, isn’t it? But no. They do not count (for their average or their median income figures for income for people working at large and small enterprises) people employed “part time”. However, in the recent Statistics Mauritius figures, reported in Le Defi 21 May, it is clear that 72% of working people earn less than Rs20,000 or (576 US Dollars per month), and this includes the very low income that must be part-time.


updated on 21 May