LAST Tuesday, the Philippines country office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) released its annual report on trends in the country’s labor sector, which to the surprise of almost no one was politely critical of the unspectacular efforts of the Aquino Administration to reduce the Philippines’ chronic unemployment, low wages and uncertain environment for job seekers.
The ILO report, entitled “Philippine Employment Trends 2015,” acknowledges that the Philippines’ robust economic growth in the past few years has contributed to reducing poverty among workers to 21.9 percent (as of the end of 2012), a gain the report describes as “modest,” and increasing the total number of employed persons to 38.1 million as of the end of 2013.
The report also acknowledges some moderate gains in other areas, such as slight reductions in the number of workers in “vulnerable” employment and the number of youths not in education and not in employment (NEET). But, it adds somewhat ominously, “Poor quality jobs with limited earnings slow progress in reducing working poverty.”
And the implications of the statistics presented by the report to support its conclusions are that without significant improvement in job creation – both in terms of quantity and quality – the Philippines’ labor situation will get worse before it gets better.
“Between 2015 and 2030, the labor force is forecast to increase by 14.9 million, implying the need for nearly 1 million new jobs each year merely to keep pace and maintain current unemployment levels,” the report said. It projects the Philippines’ working-age population (15 years and above) to reach more than 70 million, and this number will rise to nearly 78 million within five years. By 2035, the working-age population is expected to top 100 million, despite a forecast that the youngest group, those ages 15 to 24, will decrease slightly.
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, however, saw nothing but praise in the ILO’s assessment. In an official statement she said, “The report, in particular, shows that employment has expanded by more than 4 million, or 11.8 percent, over a five-year period, 2008-2013, despite the many challenges that the country has had to face through these years.”
“I believe that President Benigno S. Aquino III’s labor and employment agenda, which the DOLE has translated into meaningful and substantive reforms that we have been implementing in earnest, is to be credited for this positive development,” she added.
What she did not add, of course, is that the level of job creation in the Philippines over that time period did not quite reach the 1 million new jobs per year threshold identified by the ILO, and that of the five-year time period under study, only two-and-a-half years’ worth of indicators could be attributed to Aquino’s term in office.
Baldoz also chose to positively spin another distressing statistic: In the six years between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of workers in poverty decreased just one percent, from 22.9 percent to 21.9 percent. “We hope to see the positive trends continue,” Baldoz said. The trend is anything but positive; while the percentage declined slightly, the labor force increased by about five million in that time period, meaning that roughly 800,000 more workers were considered “working poor” in 2012 than six years earlier. Given the continuing expansion of the working-age population, that number may very well be approaching a million by now.
That is not progress by any sane definition.
The ILO report was fair, and it was very clear: While what the government has done so far has not been without value, it has been far less than what is needed, and will be even more inadequate in the years to come. Baldoz and her superiors in Malacanang should divert the energy they expend on self-praise to understanding and following the recommendations of the ILO report.