RP labor situation still uncertain, says ILO

Published by rudy Date posted on April 29, 2009

THE Philippine jobs situation remains uncertain amid the global economic slowdown, according to the International Labor Organizations (ILO), even as some employers see joblessness bottoming out soon.

Linda Wirth, director of the ILO Subregional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said the Philippine labor situation is still “unpredictable.”

“We are fairly worried. We’re not seeing signs of [employment] picking up,” she said on the sidelines of the 30th National Conference of Employers on Tuesday.

“A lot would depend on policies and the capacity of the country to generate jobs,” she said.

Wirth said the government’s pump-priming efforts would boost employment in the meantime.

“Getting people to work for infrastructure and giving budget for training would be very important. It’s wise during these times that investments are made. Sooner or later, there would be a recovery, and countries which are ready [would be at the forefront],” she said.

The ILO official said workers from the semiconductors and electronics exports industry, as well as overseas Filipino workers (OFW) have borne the brunt of the current global turmoil. Many developed markets for electronics as well as OFW host-countries having slipped into a recession, putting most Filipino workers on shaky grounds, she said.

The Department of Labor and Employment earlier said the global crisis has claimed less than 200,000 Filipinos so far in terms of lost jobs and reduced work hours or pay.

The most recent government data showed exports continued to contract in February.

Sales of Philippine-made goods abroad dropped 39.1 percent to $2.5 billion from $4.1 billion in the same month last year.

For the first two months, export earnings fell 39.9 percent to $5.02 billion from $8.34 billion in the same period last year.

The government expects exports to contract between 13 percent and 15 percent this year.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas earlier said remittances by overseas Filipinos would post no growth this year from last year’s more than $16 billion. It has since indicated that some growth is possible this year (see related story on this page).

Edgardo Lacson, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president, agreed that the labor situation remains “volatile.”

“It is too premature to say [that things would be getting better]. We are not insulated although we are not as severely affected. What is important is we prepare,” he said.

Other local employers however were less pessimistic.

“We’re reaching the bottom [of job displacements],” said Donald Dee, Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) chairman emeritus.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., ECOP president, said member firms are optimistic that improvement in the local labor situation is within sight this year, adding layoffs have steadily decreased lately.

“Net employment will be higher [soon],” he said.

The ECOP official said the employment rate would probably return to the pre-crisis level, but cautioned that a return to regular work schedules for companies that undertook flexible work shifts remains uncertain.

Dee said the country should focus on generating more jobs in sectors that are inherently strong, citing the business process outsourcing (BPO), mining, services and tourism industries.

“We can generate more jobs in these [sectors which are the country’s] strengths. We can generate as fast but we have to start doing it now,” he said.

Employers said that while local businesses were not asking for any bailout, the government still needs to extend some assistance.

Ortiz-Luis cited the need to improve the country’s infrastructure.

Lacson said the government should rationalize the number of holidays, as well as bring down the cost of power, and of doing business in the country as a whole.

Wirth said small and medium enterprises (SME) should also be continually supported, as these are labor-intensive.

The influx of thousands of recent new graduates who would also be joining the labor force should also be dealt with, Ortiz-Luis said.  –Ben Arnold O. de Vera, Reporter, Manila Times

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