Due to the enforcement of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions, the unemployment rate in the Philippines increased to 8.1 percent in August 2021, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. This is lower than the jobless rates in January, February and April this year but it exceeds the levels of unemployment in March (7.1 percent), May and June (7.7 percent), and July (6.9 percent). More than the percentages, the absolute number of jobless Filipinos is worrisome: 3.88 million.
Only last June, business and industry leaders launched a high-profile campaign to generate one million new jobs by year-end. This was followed by the issuance by President Duterte of Executive Order No. 140 on a P1.4-trillion National Economic Recovery Strategy (NERS) to be undertaken by a 20-agency NERS Task Force that will implement various job generation and job preservation programs until next year.
The private sector proponents led by the Employment Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) expect that attainment of the million-new-jobs target could slide until January 2022 due to the prolonged strict lockdown that began in August. Mobility restrictions have hampered the hiring and deployment of new workers. Lack of public transportation into the Calabarzon industrial hub has delayed the on-boarding of new hires from Quezon and Bicol provinces.
Bureaucratic delays in the issuance of health travel passes, especially for construction workers, have prevented newly-hired and returning workers from southern Luzon from being fielded in Metro Manila projects. The construction sector continues to be the highest contributor to new job generation. Hotels, restaurants, business process outsourcing (BPO), and manufacturing industries are the other primary new job generators.
The country’s economic managers remain optimistic that the recovery from the deep recession brought on by the pandemic is finally gaining momentum, despite the harsh ECQ regime enforced in August and September. Their three-pronged strategy focuses on: accelerated vaccination, safe reopening of businesses through better risk management, and enhanced budget support for priority sectors.
More substantial vaccine deliveries from American and European suppliers (Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Sputnik, and AstraZeneca) are enabling employers to inoculate their entire workforce such that their workplaces could operate as “vaccine bubbles.” Vaccinated individuals are also eyed for priority access to retail and service establishments that seek to increase foot traffic in their establishments. The hotel, tourism and travel companies are also crafting new approaches such as “travel island bubbles” and tapping host communities in delivering new services. Finally, key projects in education, health and people development will be funded from the national budget to increase the tempo of economic recovery.
Amid the sluggish pace of economic recovery, another key sector of the Filipino labor force continues to deliver the goods. According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, total remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the first half of 2021 reached $16.6 billion, slightly higher than the pre-pandemic (2019) level of $16.25 billion and higher than the $15.57 achieved in the same period last year.
Indeed, job generation is the top-priority task in achieving economic recovery.