By ELOISE WALTON [email protected]
Heavy reliance on the tourism sector has left the Algarve “extremely vulnerable” to the affects of the current economic crisis, with unemployment rising to its highest level ever as foreign visitors and investments dwindle in the region.
Alberto Melo, delegate of the Algarve’s employment and training centres, told the Algarve Resident: “Only two years ago, new projects were due to create around 13,000 jobs in the region, which, at that time, showed the need for new influxes of migrants.”
As the financial crisis hit the world, however, tourist numbers fell in the Algarve, causing the paralysis and slow down of many projects as international investment decreased.
Portugal’s national institute of statistics (INE) estimated unemployment to rise to 11.9 per cent in the Algarve at the end of 2009, with the national average being 10.1 per cent.
According to Alberto Melo, this prediction was very close to the actual figures as in the Algarve, a region with an economically active population of around 224,000, a total of 25, 602 people were unemployed on December 31, 2009.
By the end of the following month, unemployment in the region had risen to 28,331 people registered with the region’s five job centres.
Meanwhile, statistics published this month by Eurostat show that unemployment in Portugal as a whole has risen to 10.5 per cent, compared to the 9.9 per cent average in the Euro zone.
Eurostat also revealed that in January there were an estimated 22.9 million people who were unemployed in the European Union, with more than 15.6 million in the Euro zone alone.
The industries most affected in the Algarve are the hotel and restaurants, with almost 10,000 people looking for work in these areas, and the construction sector, which has more than 5,300 people seeking work in the sector.
During a debate earlier this month in Faro about the growing issue of unemployment in the region, Alberto Melo said: “There aren’t enough staff to increase the support to the unemployed.”
He told the Algarve Resident: “This year, in which we have registered the highest numbers of unemployment ever, we reached the peak in February and have even started to see a slight stagnation and a slight decrease.”
This summer is not due to provide the number of “temporary” jobs that are normally available during the high season but it will bring “a breath of fresh air” to the region.
“There are a few developments that are due to open this year, some related to tourism and others in the commercial sector,” said Alberto Melo. “There are also due to be public works starting in 2010, which will open a few positions in this sector.”
In his opinion, the employment situation will only become stable when the region diversifies its economic structure, moving away from the dominance of sun and beach tourism and developing its other resources such as health and sports tourism, traditional products, organic farming and renewable energies, among others.
To help combat growing unemployment, the Algarve’s employment and training centres have a variety of measures to support those actively seeking work.
As well as managing employment offers, the IEFPs also support those who do not find work immediately by offering modular courses in a variety of subjects for adults, immigrants, young and disabled people.
These initiatives, which are supported by annual 20 million euro government funding, and other programmes to create small businesses as well as finding professional apprenticeships and work placements are also part of what the IEFPs can offer. “Around 12,000 people were supported by these measures in 2009,” said Alberto Melo.
For more information about support for the unemployed and professional courses, please visit the website, available in Portuguese only, at www.iefp.pt Alternatively, visit one of the five centres in the Algarve, located in Silves, Portimão, Faro, Lagos and Vila Real de Santo António.