Commuters queue at the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 North Avenue Station in Quezon City, March 28. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN
THE COUNTRY’S job market is on track to bounce back to its pre-pandemic level by the second half of 2022, as business activity improves with the easing of mobility restrictions.
“We are optimistic that we will hit the 5% unemployment this year,” Labor Undersecretary Benjo Santos M. Benavidez said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday.
“Barring any surge in COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases, we expect that by next semester we will recover the employment rates to pre-pandemic level… Since we are already opening the economy, we are expecting to rebound to the pre-pandemic level of employment and underemployment,” he said.
In 2019, the annual unemployment rate — the share of the unemployed to the total labor force — stood at 5.1%. It more than doubled to 10% in 2020 as many businesses were forced to shut down due to the pandemic. The jobless rate improved to 7.8% in 2021.
Job quality — as measured by underemployment rate or the proportion of those employed who wants additional job or longer working hours — was at 13.8% in 2019. During the pandemic, it rose to 16.4% and 15.9% in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
In February, the jobless rate stood at 6.4%, representing 3.126 million unemployed Filipinos. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) will release the Labor Force Survey for March on Friday. The data is expected to reflect the impact of the further easing of pandemic restrictions during the month.
Metro Manila and other areas were placed under the most lenient Alert Level 1 in March as the number of COVID-19 cases dwindled.
Employers Confederation of the Philippines President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said that the government’s optimistic outlook for the labor market may be due to the lower alert levels.
Government projects such as Reform, Rebound, Recover: One Million Jobs for 2021 also helped in providing opportunities for qualified yet unemployed jobseekers, Mr. Ortiz-Luis said in a phone interview.
“Still, we should address issues that would hinder our progress. Hopefully, the next administration will address issues in the agricultural sector, mining, manufacturing, and construction. And hopefully, the quality of jobs will improve,” he added.
“The tourism sector will take a while to recover. We cannot control the arrivals of visitors. We still have problems in transportation in Metro Manila. Thankfully our domestic sector is improving,” Mr. Ortiz-Luis said.
The Labor department’s Mr. Benavidez said that the next administration should prioritize economic recovery that “will generate more employment opportunities especially in the service sector, education, and the tourism industry.”
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay said that the outcome of the May 9 polls and the policies of the next administration will influence the employment situation in the country.
“If those process would be positive and favorable, investments and investors will come and invest and would hopefully create quality jobs,” Mr. Tanjusay said in a text message.
JOBLESSNESS IN OLONGAPOMeanwhile, Olongapo City logged the highest unemployment rate among highly urbanized cities (HUCs) and provinces in 2021, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said.
Olongapo City had a jobless rate of 14.4% in 2021, more than double the national average of 7.8%, according to the preliminary results of the agency’s Annual Provincial Labor Market Statistics report. This was equivalent to about 14,668 unemployed persons in Olongapo City last year.
Other HUCs and provinces that recorded double-digit unemployment rates were Camarines Norte (14.1%, equivalent to 33,188 jobless people); Marikina (12.9%, 26,247); Malabon City (12.7%, 19,946); and Taguig City (12.4%, 51,762).
Meanwhile, Agusan del Sur logged the highest underemployment rate at 51.6%, equivalent to 177,443, against the national underemployment rate of 15.9% in 2021.
The underemployment rate represents the total number of persons who want to have additional work hours or an additional job to the total employed population.
Other HUCs and provinces that saw elevated underemployment rates were Occidental Mindoro (42.3%, equivalent to 90,908); Aurora (41.6%, 39,140); Zamboanga Sibugay (40.3%, 118,053); and Apayao (38.8%, 19,206).
In terms of employment rate, Surigao del Sur had the highest at 97.7%, followed by Lanao del Norte and South Cotabato both with 97.6% and Batanes and Mountain Province both with 97.5%.
Bukidnon posted the highest labor force participation rate at 78.3%, followed by Ilocos Norte (77.6%); Agusan del Sur (76.7%), Mountain Province (75.9%); and Zamboanga del Norte (74.9%).
Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort attributed the high jobless rate in Olongapo City due to the strict quarantine restrictions that affected many tourism-related businesses.
“The significant reduction in tourism largely due to the COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns could have led to reduced jobs or employment opportunities in these areas,” he said in a text message.
Strict lockdowns were implemented in many parts of the Philippines to curb the surge in COVID-19 infections last year. Restrictions were only eased starting November as the country shifted to an alert level system with granular lockdowns.
Mr. Ricafort expressed optimism the labor market will recover this year.
“Further reopening of the economy towards greater normalcy, boosting foreign and local tourism, resumption of in-person schooling, among other measures to further reopen the economy could help further improve economic recovery prospects including the creation as well as recovery of some of the lost jobs in those areas,” he said. — Keisha B. Ta-asan and Mariedel Irish U. Catilogo