The latest labor force figures confirm that the jobs situation is still much worse than before the pandemic, said research group IBON. The group said that the government’s over-reliance on periodic destructive lockdowns to contain the coronavirus is ineffective and only causes unnecessary economic distress for tens of millions of Filipinos. At the very least, immediately providing substantial ayuda (emergency assistance) grows more urgent by the day.
The group said that the 4.1 million unemployed and 7.5 million underemployed Filipinos in April 2021 is still much more than in January 2020 before the pandemic hit – higher by 1.7 million and 1.2 million, respectively. The need for work and incomes continues to grow but employment over that period increased by just 726,000.
The additional employment is not just insufficient, said IBON, but also masks a serious deterioration in the quality of work and incomes because of the protracted and repeatedly harsh lockdowns since March last year. A closer look at the kind of work available shows millions of Filipinos struggling and forced to make do with whatever employment or means of earning an income they can find.
More and more of the so-called jobs available are just Filipinos turning to informal self-employment, stressed IBON. By class of worker, the number of wage and salary workers dropped by 1.4 million between January 2020 and April 2021. This is from overwhelming job losses in private establishments with thousands of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) retrenching or shutting down.
Huge numbers of Filipinos are instead forced into self-employed work without any paid employees which rose to 12.3 million (1.2 million increase) or becoming unpaid family workers which bloated to 3.4 million (775,000 increase). They have also become employers in own family-operated farms and businesses which grew to 1.1 million (131,000 increase).
The worsening informality is also reflected when looking at the employed by hours worked, IBON said. Those in part-time employment (less than 40 hours) shot up by 4.6 million to 18 million, while those working full-time (worked 40 hours and over) fell by 4.6 million to 24.2 million. Those classified as “with a job, not at work” meanwhile increased by 743,000 to 1.1 million.
There are now almost as many part-time workers and those with a job but not at work as full-time workers (24.2 million). This is due to the large shift to self-employment and also from more and more businesses implementing reduced workdays or hours.
A large number of Filipinos are also crowding into sectors that are notoriously low-paying and irregular. Employment in wholesale and retail trade increased by 1.3 million to 9.9 million and in agriculture by 935,000 to 10.6 million. These two sectors however continued to contract in the first quarter of 2021 – agriculture contracted by 1.2% and trade by 3.9%, according to recently released national accounts data – which strongly implies lower sectoral incomes made worse by overcrowding.
IBON said that the government is destroying millions of jobs and livelihoods with its over-reliance on lockdowns instead of better containment measures such as mass testing, extensive contact tracing, and rational quarantines and isolation.
The most recent lockdown since March 2021, for instance, caused a 2.1 million drop in total employment between March and April 2021. This includes a massive 4.1 million decrease in full-time work, which the 1.4 million increase in part-time work could not compensate for.
A big part of this is due to the NCR plus lockdown which covered economically important regions. There is no regional data to compare from March but employment since January 2021 fell in NCR (by 56,000) and Central Luzon (by 86,000), while unemployment increased in NCR (by 370,000), Central Luzon (by 4,000), and CALABARZON (by 76,000).
Because of job and income losses and lack of decent work, many Filipinos are grappling with worsening hunger and poverty. There were 15 million or 62.1% of Filipino families that went hungry and 18.6 million households in distress and without savings in 2020.
IBON said that the Duterte administration needs to stop just giving lip service to having a prevent, detect, isolate, treat and recover (PDITR) strategy. This is clearly not really being implemented resulting in periodic surges in COVID-19 cases which are then dealt with in a very short-sighted manner using economically destructive lockdowns.
Along with actually implementing effective pandemic response measures, the dire situation of tens of millions of Filipinos should be more than enough impetus for the government to immediately distribute much needed and substantial ayuda. If it wanted to, government could meet the people’s demands for ayuda, such as the Php10,000 emergency cash assistance and Php100 wage subsidy, instead of prioritizing debt, military and infrastructure spending, the group said.