Wanted: Job czar for millions of jobless Filipinos

Published July 1, 2020, 2:17 PM

by manilabulletin_admin



Atty. Joey D. Lina
Atty. Joey D. Lina

The surging figures on joblessness, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, plagued with many uncertainties and still no end in sight, can be utterly distressing.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported on June 5 that the number of jobless Filipinos ballooned to 7.3 million last April, up from 2.4 million in January and 2.3 million a year ago, for an all-time high of 17.7 percent jobless rate.

“This is a record high in the unemployment rate reflecting the effects of the economic shutdown to the Philippine labor market due to COVID-19,” according to National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa who said the last time that the jobless rate was double-digit was in the second quarter of 1991.

The PSA report came out two weeks after Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III expressed the possibility that as much as 10 million workers will lose jobs by the end of 2020 in the pandemic.

“I hate to say it, but it’s possible,” Secretary Bello told a Senate hearing on May 20 when asked by Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto if the number of jobless in the Philippines could reach 10 million as estimated by some House lawmakers. The labor department chief had earlier said around 4 to 5 million Filipinos faced unemployment due to the coronavirus crisis.

A report on job displacement released by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that as of June 21, 3,189 business establishments submitted notices of retrenchment or shutdown.  “From an average of 276 companies from January to May, the number of affected business soared to 1,809 in June,” the DOLE report said.

Aside from the millions who lost or are about to lose their jobs in the country, there are the Overseas Filipino Workers facing unemployment woes as the worldwide economic downturn from the pandemic hit many countries hosting OFWs. At this time, around 345,000 OFWs are jobless, Sec. Bello said.

With so many Filipinos affected by joblessness, it’s no wonder a SWS survey on May 4-10 showed that 83 percent of us are now “disappointed, disheartened, and discouraged” by the current crisis.

The Manila Bulletin’s editorial of June 22 aptly described the situation: “To this day, there is no assurance when people can go back to work as before, buy things in public markets and supermarkets, eat in hotels, restaurants, and other public places, go to church for Masses or even just to pray in the quiet surroundings. They have had to stay at home for three whole months now, and still with no certainty as to when the restrictions will end. All because of a virus that continues to kill thousands around the world.”

Why more than eight out of 10 Filipinos say their lives had worsened, the MB editorial says it all. But it shows a way out of the predicament.

“The government truly is not to blame for this record fall in our people’s assessment of their lives, but it presents a big problem in the coming months and years for all of us. It is in that light that the government should see the SWS results – as a challenge that must now be met with the most assiduous planning and the most dedicated efforts to achieve a goal that will take many years to accomplish,” the MB editorial concluded.

Tackling a challenge “that must now be met with the most assiduous planning and the most dedicated efforts” is indeed the way out of the crippling crisis.

The serious rate of joblessness presented by DOLE and the PSA should compel every government official, national or local, to focus on job creation. All departments of government must come forward with their concrete plans and programs, with number of jobs that can be created in partnership with the private sector, and the enabling conditions for these programs to succeed.

I’ve been reading on what government intends to do and is doing to address the massive loss of jobs. Yes, there are stop-gap measures—all the social amelioration programs and others under the Bayanihan law, including the DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program to help informal sector workers. Yet, these clearly are not sufficient in these perilous times.

There are no concrete and detailed programs that have been presented thus far to evince hope and confidence in our people that everything is being done to shore up the economy and employ people who lost jobs as a result of the pandemic.

The “Build, Build, Build” has been touted as a program that can create a lot of jobs. But how many? How many civil engineers and other skilled workers are needed in construction of roads, bridges, etc.?

Motherhood statements are not enough. Concrete plans are needed for employment or livelihood creation to compensate for jobs lost temporarily or permanently under the new normal, or that will take a long time to return. In the short term, priority must be on low hanging fruits.

Efforts must be focused on how to create jobs in the short, medium, and long terms in four major sectors of the economy:  the primary sector – farming, fishery, mining; secondary sector – manufacturing, construction, utilities; tertiary sector – retail, financial services, communication, hospitality and leisure, real estate, information; and quaternary sector – education, public sector, research and development.

A job czar or one who oversees the entire job creation efforts must be pinpointed and must be accountable. He must be fully staffed and must come up with figures on where jobs have been lost, whether temporary or permanent, and a projection of how long temporary lost jobs can come back.

A national strategy on job creation, retraining, retooling, and deployment needs to be written down, clearly spelled out per sector and sub-sector of the economy. That ought to be among the primary functions of a job czar. With tough times ahead, it’s indeed a tough job for a job czar.

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