LABOR Day has come and gone. While many people think of Labor Day as just another holiday, the occasion is meant to honor the contributions of working men and women to the growth and prosperity of our nation.
What workers need most though, aside from the recognition during Labor Day, are straightforward solutions to some of the serious problems they face. Instead of lip service about the importance of their concerns, the government and the private sector should pursue more genuine efforts to solve these problems.
First and foremost among these problems that need solving, of course, is the lack of quality jobs available to the country’s workforce.
In his unannounced Labor Day attendance in Cebu, President Aquino presided over the launching of the Jobstart workers training program and Cemex plant rites in Mandaue.
According to the latest Labor Force Survey (LFS) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), a total of 37.45 million Filipinos were employed in January 2015, or 1.04 million more than the 36.4 million employed in the same month last year.
The number of jobless Filipinos fell in January from a year earlier while those working additional hours or holding more than one job declined as well.
The latest labor force survey (LFS) showed the jobless rate at 6.6 percent in January 2015, compared with 7.5 percent a year earlier but higher compared with 6 percent in October 2014.
The latest unemployment rate translates to 2.6473 million jobless Filipinos who belong to the Philippine labor force of 40.11 million.
The PSA statistics showed 54.6 percent of the over 37.45 million employed are working in services sector; 29.5 percent in agriculture; and 15.9 percent are in industries.
Among sectors, the agriculture sector had the highest poverty incidence, according to previous data of the PSA.
Going by government statistics alone it is clear we need to produce more quality jobs specifically in agriculture and other low-income sectors to ease poverty.
Besides, whatever marginal gains in employment this administration achieved is easily eroded by high food prices.
With only 15 months left in President Aquino 3rd’s term, his administration needs clear-cut strategies to create more quality or decent jobs.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), despite the recent success of the Philippine economy in reducing unemployment and underemployment, the country needs to step up its efforts to attain inclusive economic growth.
In the Philippine Employment Trends 2015 report, the ILO said the country’s high economic growth in the past few years was able to increase employment to 38.1 million in 2013 and reduce poverty among Filipino workers modestly to 21.9 percent in 2012.
“It is not the level of economic growth, but how we achieve growth with impact on people’s lives and the society,” ILO Philippines Country Director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said.
The ILO added that, even if the economy can post a growth of 6.3 percent this year and the Asean Economic Community can expand the economy by 7.5 percent by 2025, these will not directly translate into decent jobs.
We need sound, aggressive and actionable strategies to propel jobs growth in an orderly manner and remove hurdles to full employment. We also need measures to create new jobs for marginal households.
Such measures should include the use of all available assets, including idle or non-performing government land, for public housing and other highly labor-intensive projects, and community employment programs tied to infrastructure projects.
According to a study by the National Competitiveness Council, the country has to create three to four million new jobs every year over the next five years, to bridge the unemployment gap and bring the nation to newly industrialized status.
Jobs provide people with incomes that enable them to buy goods and services or to save. The increase in consumption stimulates the market, builds up the economy and provides additional revenue for government. And the accumulation of savings provides more funds for investment.
The government needs to take the lead in creating jobs. They should draft a national employment plan that would compel every agency and state-owned firm to carry out more labor-intensive projects.
To make sure these agencies do, Congress should consider as factors for approving their budget not only their performance, but also the number of jobs they were able to provide.
Let us ensure that every public project and that every private sector endeavor is highly labor-intensive. Let us compel every agency to set achievable employment targets. Then let us assign an interagency panel to monitor performance in terms of jobs creation.
As to the private sector, loan applications with government financial institutions should be approved on the basis of the number of jobs the projects to be funded would create.
The government should focus on public works that have the highest job-creation potential and generate the highest returns. These projects, such as farm-to-market roads, school buildings and irrigation systems, are also urgently needed. Whether such projects involve new construction or maintenance, they provide direct employment, help lower cost of production and consequently, also reduce the prices of goods.