Philippine government told to carry through job plan amid grim outlook

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JOBSEEKERS gathered at the Mega Job Fair in a mall on Jan. 18, 2023. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

ANTONIO GABRIEL S. PE BENITO, 24, is thinking about leaving the Philippines given the paltry pay he gets as a management trainee at a local consultancy firm.

The fresh graduate, who gets P20,000 ($358) a month, is not optimistic about the local job scene despite measures recently passed by Congress to boost employment.

“I would go abroad if given the chance,” he said by telephone. “I’m sure I will get better benefits and it will be good for my career.”

The International Labour Organization expects the global jobless rate to rise to 5.2% this year from 5.1% a year earlier. In a report this month, the United Nations body said the global labor market is set to “deteriorate moderately” because of increased joblessness in advanced economies.

“The erosion of real wages and living standards by high and persistent inflation rates and rising costs of housing is unlikely to be offset quickly,” it said.

Metro Manila’s daily minimum wage rose by P40 to P610 ($10.93) in June, much lower than the P570 increase sought by Unity for Wage Increase Now.

Daily minimum wages in Thailand range from 328 baht ($9.40) to 354 baht, Malaysia is at 69.23 ringgit ($14.90) and Indonesia at 232,000 rupiah ($14.93).

The Philippine unemployment rate dropped to an 18-year low of 3.6% in November, according to the local statistics agency. Job quality was stagnant as the underemployment rate — the share of employed workers who are seeking more work or longer working hours — stayed at 11.7%.

A PwC Philippines survey in August showed that 29% of Filipino workers were looking for new jobs and demanding higher pay amid spiraling prices.

Jose “Sonny” G. Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers, said measures passed by Congress to boost employment hinge on effective enforcement.

“Ensuring that these stakeholders have a say in how the laws are carried out is crucial for realizing the intended improvements in job creation,” he said in a Viber message. “Their passage is only half the success.”

Mr. Matula said lawmakers should push bills to boost local industries instead of letting the country rely on dollar receipts from migrant Filipino workers.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. late last year signed the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Code, which seeks to harmonize the rules on PPP projects to expand private sector participation in state infrastructure programs.

“Infrastructure investments are expected to stimulate economic growth and create jobs,” Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa Secretary-General Josua T. Mata said in a Viber message. “But this will depend on various factors including the scale of investment, efficiency of project implementation and the overall economic environment.”

There were 180 ongoing PPP projects worth P2.639 trillion as of Sept. 1, while 104 more projects worth P2.521 trillion were in the pipeline, according to the Department of Finance.

In September, Mr. Marcos signed into law a bill creating a national master plan to boost employment and job quality through upskilling and reskilling programs. An interagency body headed by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Trade and Labor secretaries, will help local governments carry out job recovery programs.

Mr. Mata said the government has yet to come up with a concrete plan for the Philippine workforce because the law only mobilized the bureaucracy to develop a roadmap.

“What we need is an activist government, one that would actively promote an industrial policy and intervene in the labor market and directly generate jobs through a robust public employment program,” he said.

Partido Manggagawa Chairman and former Party-List Rep. Renato B. Magtubo said state infrastructure campaigns have only provided temporary or seasonal jobs that failed to address local joblessness.

“The government should develop the agriculture sector, build capacities and boost the competitiveness of homegrown industries to generate quality and sustainable jobs,” he said in a Viber message.

Congress on Dec. 13 ratified the Bicameral Conference Committee report of a bill that seeks to uphold the rights and welfare of Filipino seafarers, while setting up a shipboard training program for local seamen. The President has yet to sign it into law.

WAGE HIKEThe proposed Magna Carta for Seafarers would help the Philippines comply with global maritime standards, Carlos Miguel S. Oñate, a legislative officer at the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), said in an e-mail. “It will address decades-old deficits of our domestic policies on training and accreditation in line with international standards.”

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) raised issues about Philippine compliance with European Union (EU) standards on maritime training after an inspection of maritime schools last year. It noted that almost 50,000 Filipino seamen working in European vessels could lose their jobs if the Philippines fails to address the deficiencies.

TUCP wants Congress to approve bills that will address the plight of contractual workers and ensure the right of workers to form unions.

Mr. Matula also cited the need to pass the P150 across-the-board wage hike pending before the Senate, saying the legislated increase would boost the purchasing power of Filipinos and prop up the economy.

“It has become more important after the regional wage-setting mechanisms utterly failed to provide the much-needed relief from the high cost of living brought by oil price hikes, spiraling costs of food and other commodities, as well as transportation,” he said.

A bloc of congressmen has also filed a bill seeking a P750 wage hike for private sector workers, including those in special economic zones, freeports and agriculture.

Labor groups have urged the government to reform the regional wage-setting system to ensure wages keep up with the rising cost of living. A Filipino family of five would need at least P13,797 a month or P460 a day to meet their basic needs, according to the local statistics agency.

NEDA Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan has warned that proposals to legislate a P150 wage hike could stoke inflation.

Runaway inflation forced global central banks to drive up interest rates to the fastest in decades last year, though the World Bank has said prices are poised to continue easing in the coming months.

Philippine inflation averaged 6% last year compared with 5.8% a year earlier, marking the second straight year that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas breached its 2-4% target. 

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines has said a legislated wage hike should also consider workers in less formal employment, noting that private sector workers only account for 16% of the country’s workforce.

“Higher wages will boost consumption and drive wage-led growth,” TUCP’s Mr. Oñate said in an e-mail. “It will promote inclusive growth and equity by expanding industries and creating more and better jobs through higher consumption demand driven by the higher wages of working families.”