Unemployment in Slovakia crossed the 14% barrier in July, according to figures released on August 20 by the National Labour Office. In some regions of the country, such as southern Slovakia's Rimavská Sobota, the number of jobless soared over 30%.
While the first half of 1998 brought increased unemployment rates in 65 of 79 Slovak regional districts, the latest figures show an alarming jump from 13.5% at the end of June to 14.1% as of July 31. Because of changes in the way the numbers are tabulated, Labour Office officials said the latest results could not be compared to previous years.
Officials at the Labour Office also said they expected the unemployment rate to continue its ascent. "The rise in the unemployment rate in the first half was caused by an increased [number] of students that graduated and were not able to find a job; this made about 18,000 people," said Pavel Tomasta, director of the Labour Office's analysis department.
"More people are quitting seasonal jobs," he continued. "A lot of companies are reducing their number of employees in order to keep the high level of salaries as well." Tomasta added that the Labour Office does not have enough finances to create a satisfactory number of jobs for unemployed workers.
The jobless tally at the end of July rose to 388,541 from 374,735 a month ago; the number of unemployed in 1991 stood at 300,000.
The biggest growth in the unemployment rate occurred in Slovakia's eastern districts, especially Rimavská Sobota and Trebišov, where the number of jobless reached 25.5% at the end of June. Five eastern districts registered numbers over 25%. The regions posting the highest unemployment rates were Prešov, at 19.9%, followed by Košice at 19.8%.
"The reason why the unemployment rate is so high in eastern districts like Trebišov is that there is a great deficit in industrial production, and agricultural production is stagnating," said Ján Šípoš, director of the regional Labor Office in Trebišov. "If there is one open job opportunity, we have 100 or 150 unemployed people who could take it."
A possible solution to the Trebišov region's problems could be to attract foreign investment into regional companies, Šípoš continued.
An enduring characteristic of Slovak regional unemployment is the relatively high number of Romany citizens among the jobless: in Trebišov, Romanies account for 29.9% of the unemployed. "It is very hard to place them in a job because people do not want them as employees," Šípoš said. "They are perceived as not very educated and as reluctant to work."
Tomasta of the National Labour Office expects a further increase in the unemployment rate in the fall. "We have to consider the additional 40,000 to 45,000 graduates who will cause a slight increase in the unemployment rate," he said. "In November and December we are expecting a rapid increase in the unemployment rate."
Juraj Renčko, an analyst with the SlvoakAcademy of Science, agreed that "the regional differencies will remain, but the rise in unemployment we are seeing now is seasonal in nature, and related to the number of students graduating."
The Ministry of Works and Social Affairs concured with Tomasta's forecast. "We also expect the unemployment rate to grow, but we do not think that the overall unemployment rate should be more than 15% at the end of the year," said Ľubica Gajdošová, vice-director of the Ministry's Department of Employment.
Gajdošová explained that summer unemployment rates are usually slightly lower than year-end figures. "For example, the government invests money into the construction of highways [during the summer]," she explained. "But, on the other hand, this type of construction uses a lot of machinery, so it does not provide as many jobs. It is not as it was in the US in the '30s when men worked on highways with shovels."