China unveils new incentives to boost employment

Job seekers speaking with representatives at a job fair for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei province enterprises in Beijing, China on April 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Job seekers speaking with representatives at a job fair for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei province enterprises in Beijing, China on April 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's cabinet unveiled new measures on Friday to boost employment, offering more flexible tax breaks to companies to hire the jobless, preferential loans and incentives for farmers and new graduates.

Facing slowing economic growth, Chinese authorities have said that avoiding mass unemployment is a crucial policy priority, although the real jobless rate is widely believed to be much higher than official figures.

The State Council, or cabinet, said that companies will get tax breaks for employing people who have been out of work for more than six months, rather than more than one year as was previously the case.

More preferential loans will be given to people who want to set up their own businesses and the process will be simplified, while banks will be encouraged to lend to small firms, it added.

Migrant workers who wish to return to their hometowns to set up businesses will also be supported with tax breaks and simplified procedures, while graduates will get loans and reduced tuition if they work in less developed parts of China for a certain period of time.

"Resolutely put a stably increasing employment rate as an important goal for macro-economic control," the State Council said. "Encourage people to start businesses and to innovate." Companies will get priority in bids for large-scale projects if they create lots of jobs, it added.

A senior official said last week that urban employment held up in the first quarter even as economic growth slowed to a 6-year low, though the labour ministry warned that authorities cannot be "blindly optimistic" as the pace of job creation is slowing.

The urban unemployment rate was at 4.05 per cent at the end of March, little changed from 4.1 per cent at the end of 2014.

China's annual economic growth slowed to a six-year low of 7 per cent in the first quarter, hurt by a housing slump and a downturn in investment and manufacturing.

The government aims to create at least 10 million new jobs in 2015 and keep the urban jobless rate below 4.5 per cent.

The urban unemployment rate hovered between 4 per cent and 4.5 per cent in the last decade, even during the global financial crisis, partly because it does not account for China's 298 million migrant labourers.

Authorities have rolled out a series of economic stimulus measures over the last year, including two interest rate cuts since November, to cushion the blow, but have indicated they may be willing to tolerate somewhat cooler growth if the labour market remains resilient.