CHINA said yesterday that it expects to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries, or about 15 percent of the workforce, as part of efforts to reduce industrial overcapacity, but no time frame was given.

It was the first time China has given figures that underline the magnitude of its task in dealing with slowing growth and bloated state enterprises.

Yin Weimin, minister for human resources and social security, told a news conference that 1.3 million workers in the coal sector could lose jobs, plus 500,000 from the steel sector.

China’s coal and steel sectors employ about 12 million workers, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics.

“This involves the resettlement of a total of 1.8 million workers. This task will be very difficult, but we are still very confident,” Yin said.

The central government will allocate 100 billion yuan (US$15.3 billion) over two years to relocate workers laid off as a result of China’s efforts to curb overcapacity, officials said last week.

Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao quoted Premier Li Keqiang as telling US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew yesterday that the fund would mainly focus on the steel and coal sectors.

The number of layoffs was reasonable based on the government’s capacity closure targets, said Jiang Feitao, an industry researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences.

He said the funds being made available would be used only after the enterprises go bankrupt and settle their debts.

He said local governments would also be responsible for dealing with those debts.

“It’s difficult to predict a time frame but it will not be a quick process. There are many issues to be dealt with, including how to pay debt as well as layoffs,” Jiang said.

Downward pressure

The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.9 percent in 2015, the weakest in 25 years, and the government aims to achieve economic growth of 6.5-7 percent in 2016.

“The economy faces relatively big downward pressures and some firms face difficulties in production and operation, which would lead to insufficient employment,” Yin said, adding that more graduates this year would also add pressure in the job market.

The survey-based jobless rate published by the statistics bureau remained around 5 percent at the end of last year.

Officials have said that the services sector has created more jobs to help absorb laid-off workers from the manufacturing sector.

In 2015, the contribution from the services sector to gross domestic product climbed to 50.5 percent, surpassing 50 percent for the first time.

Mar. 1, 2016 on Shanghai Daily

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