Lockdowns destroy jobs of 5 million Filipinos in April

Prinz Magtulis - Philstar.com
Lockdowns destroy jobs of 5 million Filipinos in April
“Inadequate public transportation and poor anticipation of return-to-work scenario is causing a lot of jobs, wage deductions and additional stress,” TUCP's Alex Tanjusay said in a text message.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Five million more Filipinos were left jobless by the pandemic and government-initiated lockdowns in April, in the clearest sign of socioeconomic damage from the health crisis that saw businesses getting shuttered and people staying home.

While state officials said some job losses were temporary and could have since recovered with Metro Manila’s reopening, observers cautioned the situation may be far worse than the numbers are telling, with displaced migrant workers not counted in the official tally. Labor groups said the government shares the blame for growing unemployment.

The jobless rate hit 17.7% in April, surging from last year’s 5.1%, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Friday. The figure was the highest since April 2005 when the government made methodological changes on how unemployment is computed. 

In absolute terms, movement restrictions threw 7.3 million Filipinos out of their workplace during the survey period, up from 2.3 million a year ago, PSA data showed.

“The definition (of unemployment) is if you do not have work in the last week (of April). What we will do in the next few months, once we have another survey and if we will see improvement in July round, then we can say that that impact is temporary,” National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa said at an online briefing. 

Adding to the gloomy picture was the labor force participation rate of 55.6% which was the “lowest in the history of Philippine labor market,” PSA said. This indicates that fewer Filipinos actively sought jobs in April. People looking for more jobs, or those underemployed, also jumped to 18.4% of the labor force, the highest since the first quarter of 2016.

“The writing is on the wall. This is a blaring wake-up call for the public sector to set aside credit rating ambitions and do whatever it takes to save the economy from the vicious, unmanageable downward spiral,” Emilio Neri Jr., lead economist at Bank of the Philippine Islands, said in an online exchange.

Factories shut

Based on PSA’s data, all regions recorded “double-digit” jobless rates, with the Bangsamoro region and Central Luzon recording the highest proportion of jobless populations. Halted business operations mean fewer times of being at work at around 35 hours per week, down from 41.8 hours same period last year.

On firms, separate PSA data also showed the pandemic's damaging impact. Factories, on average, only used up to 70% of their capacity in April, down from 77.9% in March and way below the typical above-80% rate. As a result, manufacturers produced 59.8% less than the goods they manufactured in April last year. 

For Alvin Ang, director of Ateneo’s Center for Economic Research and Development, the headline jobless count could be worse if displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) will be considered. Labor department figures showed that as of May, more than 302,000 OFWs were forced out of their jobs due to lackluster economic activity. 

“Relaxation of the lockdowns could help ease the unemployment numbers albeit remaining high,” Ang said. 

Dismal recovery?

But for Alex Tanjusay, spokesperson of Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, a labor group, a restart on economic activity since June 1 is unlikely to make any difference for jobs, not with the government’s poor pandemic response, starting with the “ineptitude” of transport officials.

“Inadequate public transportation and poor anticipation of return-to-work scenario is causing a lot of jobs, wage deductions and additional stress,” Tanjusay said in a text message.

“The main factor for the recent additional unemployment is the quarantine lockdown and shutdown of businesses… But it must be noted that it’s also the government itself, and the policies, that is also causing this unemployment,” he added.

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