Turkish unemployment eases to 13.2% in February-April despite coronavirus

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s unemployment rate eased to 13.2% in the February-April period from 13.6% in January-March, data showed on Wednesday, but analysts said the figures do not reflect the blow from the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: A porter wiats for customers in Diyarbakir, Turkey, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

The government imposed a three-month ban on layoffs in April to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the government had prepared a comprehensive package to boost employment.

The jobless rate stood at 14.1% in the same period last year. The non-agricultural unemployment rate fell to 15.0% from 16.1% a year earlier, the Turkish Statistical Institute said.

Tera Yatirim economist Enver Erkan said the real impact of the COVID-19 outbreak was not evident in the data partly because of the narrow definition used for unemployment, with those on unpaid leave not included.

“Contrary to the headline figures, there are actually details showing deterioration in the labour market,” he said, noting that most dismissed employees were not looking for a job due to poor conditions in the labour market.

Seasonally adjusted, the non-agricultural unemployment rate rose to 15.1% from 14.6% a month earlier, with the labour force participation rate declining by 1.7 percentage points to 49.0%.

Analysts expect the pandemic to tip Turkey’s economy into its second recession in as many years. Unemployment has remained high since mid-2019 even while the economy emerged from a recession brought on by a currency crisis in 2018.

After a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Erdogan said the government would give “normalisation support” to employers who put workers on short working hours or unpaid leave due to the coronavirus.

Bahcesehir University’s BETAM economic research centre said the linkage between economic activity and employment figures had become invalid due to measures such as a ban on layoffs.

“The relatively high correlation between loss of employment and the number of those unemployed has been disrupted,” BETAM said in a note.

It said the biggest reason for the limited rise in the number of those unemployed despite the loss of their jobs was workers too discouraged to look for another job.

Reporting by Daren Butler, Ezgi Erkoyun with additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ece Toksabay, Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich