[This was published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer and first posted on their website on 04:08:00 07/24/2009]
MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has not been remiss in pointing to employment as one of the main welfare issues, along with poverty, health and education, in her State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs) since 2001.
However, the Arroyo administration’s scorecard in employment has been mixed—with a few “good” grades, some “bad” ones and some “ugly” marks.
The target of one million additional jobs has been met several times since 2006. The job increases in January (1.5 million) and April 2007 (1 million) could be due to the campaign activities for the general elections in May that year.
From July 2008 to April 2009 there was evidence from the Labor Force Survey that on average, an additional million jobs had also been created—1.3 million in July 2008, 800,000 in October 2008, 600,000 in January 2009 and 1.5 million in April 2009.
The Department of Labor and Employment attributes this increase to the government’s focus on employment generation and preservation as a crucial strategy aimed at helping people cope with the economic crunch.
Strong labor demand
The measures taken by the government to generate jobs include the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (CLEEP) that employs low-income and unemployed workers in various government projects.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reported that a total of 1,236,013 Filipinos were deployed for work abroad in 2008, which was 14.7 percent higher than the year before.
The potential effects of the continuing global economic slowdown on deployment have been mitigated by the strong labor demand in Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.
The SONA 2008 featured the plight of several disadvantaged members of society.
“I worry about the poor housewife who is burdened with the responsibility of raising a family. I worry about the farmer who is on the frontline of producing food but struggles to feed his own family,” Ms Arroyo said.
“I care for hardworking students soon to graduate and wanting to see hope [in a] good job and a career prospect here at home. I worry about the 41-year-old household head who supports a wife and three children, but cannot work daily. He should be given additional income and honor,” she added.
However, the concerns of these sectors have become even more real since July 2008.
Job seekers have found work in the combined services sectors: trade, transport, private households and public administration. Trade means sari-sari stores, buy-and-sell, four-gives.
Padyak-cabs would be categorized under transport; namamasukan (domestic helpers) and naglalaba (laundry women) would be under private households. Public administration would refer to government programs CLEEP and Oyster (Out-of-School Youth Striving Toward Economic Recovery).
Agriculture employment has also increased but this has not reversed the shift of workers leaving the sector because of low pay, climate change, decreasing hectarage for farming and limited opportunities in rural areas.
Looking back over the past years, there has been no sustainable jobs added to industry.
The government programs have raised the number of paid workers, but a similar increase is seen in the number of unpaid family workers, which does not bear the quality of sustainability and sufficiency.
In the April 2009 Labor Force Survey, the additional 1.5 million jobs were net of the increase of 2.6 million workers who worked for less than 40 hours a week and of the decrease of about 1.1 million workers who worked for 40 hours or more.
Government’s chosen investment and employment strategies, weighed down by poor governance and external market disturbances, have created structural problems that would take more than an administration’s term (of six years) to straighten out. These can be termed “uglies.”
Workers in agriculture have shifted to the service sectors. Clearly, there will be repercussions on food self-sufficiency, and shortages would be met by importation.
There are the formal services sectors (banks, insurance companies, real estate firms, telecom companies, bus firms, call centers and supermarkets) and the much-bigger informal sectors (as described above), which catch surplus labor and subject workers to long hours of work, exceeding 50 hours a week, and to lower pay.
These, coupled with the declining employment in industry, set us farther back from the administration’s dream of joining the ranks of developed countries in 2020. This declaration could have been made in Magic Kingdom.
Investments and jobs in industry turn out products that use inputs from other sectors, like structural concrete needing cement and basic metal products, and that are used by other industries to make their own, like construction using structural concrete materials.
However, the Arroyo administration that has been operating in an emergency mode due to a lack of public trust and legitimacy for most of its term has not delivered on raising industrial output.
It remains to be seen whether all Ms Arroyo’s official trips abroad will indeed translate into more stable and productive jobs in the years to come.
It is not clear if the deployment of workers overseas is a development objective—economic, perhaps; social, iffy.
Key to better life
Remittances from overseas workers have indeed fueled the growth in personal and household consumption and, consequently, in the gross domestic product.
But does this outweigh negative consequences such as physically divided families, children growing up with single or absent parents, exploitative recruiters, and abusive households and enterprises?
It can be argued that this is a temporary strategy in the face of domestic and global economic uncertainty. But in the consciousness of many Filipinos, work abroad on a permanent basis is the key to a “better” life.
1M entering labor force
Last but not the least, planners should be aware that on average one million people have been entering the labor force in search of work since April 2008, much more than the historical 350,000 job seekers.
The target of one million jobs will no longer stimulate growth and elicit applause in a SONA, but may still serve as one of the yardsticks for accommodating the new entrants to the labor force.
Ms Arroyo should consider promising two million additional jobs in this coming SONA to make a meaningful change in our employment situation.
(Editor’s Note: Tomas “Butch” Africa is a former administrator of the National Statistics Office, principally responsible for the nationwide surveys and censuses conducted from 1989 to 2000. A retired director of the United Nations Statistical Institute of Asia and the Pacific, he is now working as the regional adviser for Asia of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He is currently the vice president of the Philippine Statistical Association.)