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     FrontPage Edition: Fri 12 March 2004

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Labour Market 2003 Report

The Ministry of Manpower's Manpower Research and Statistics Department has published the report on "Labour Market, 2003". The 45-page report provides an update on the state of the labour market in 2003.

After a difficult first half brought about by uncertainties due to SARS, the labour market started to pick up in the second half of 2003 following improvements in the economy. The recovery gained momentum in the final quarter, as employment saw an upswing and unemployment fell back to pre-SARS level.

Employment increased strongly by 16,233 in the fourth quarter of 2003, after registering a slight gain of 900 in the preceding quarter.

The bulk of the increases came from services industries, boosted by hirings to cope with post-SARS recovery and year-end festivities. Manufacturing also posted gains for the first time in the year. However, the gains were insufficient to offset the losses in the first half of the year.

Consequently, employment fell by 12,919 in 2003 as a whole, but this was only about half of that in 2002 (-22,857).

The bulk of the losses in 2003 were concentrated on construction (-17,472) and to a lesser extent, manufacturing (-4,917). Petroleum and chemical production stood out as a significant exception, adding 5,083 workers in 2003.

The services producing industries posted gains of 9,865 in the year. The increases came mainly from public administration & education (4,319), restaurants (3,028), business & real estate (2,391), financial services (2,216) and personal, health & social services (2,696).

These outnumbered the losses in wholesale & retail trade (-2,267), transport, storage & communications (-1,409) and hotels (-1,109).

The strong job creation in the fourth quarter brought December's unemployment (seasonally adjusted) down to 4.5% (overall) and 5.0% (resident), about the pre-SARS level in March 2003.

This improvement, however, was not enough to temper the impact of SARS and economic uncertainties earlier in the year, resulting in the annual unemployment rate averaging 4.7% (overall) and 5.3% (resident), higher than the corresponding 4.4% and 4.9% in 2002.

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