Philippine Labor Force Situation

By Karis Kasarinlan Paolo D. Mendoza

THE PHILIPPINE jobless rate jumped to a two-month high in March as inflation and an El Niño-induced dry spell limited economic output, according to the local statistics agency.

The national unemployment rate rose to 3.9%, equivalent to two million jobless Filipinos, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said in a report. The rate was 3.5% in February or 1.8 million jobless people, and 4.7% or 2.42 million a year earlier.

The jobless rate averaged 4% last quarter compared with 4.8% a year earlier.

PSA Undersecretary and National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa blamed lower farm output for increased joblessness.

“The agriculture sector as well as fisheries was heavily affected in terms of employment,” he told a news briefing in mixed English and Filipino. The industry has had to lay off workers as a result.

Inflation, which quickened for the third straight month to 3.8% in April, also restricted production, affecting jobs, Cid L. Terosa, a senior economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said in an e-mail.

“The high labor force participation rate as well as seasonal effects related to the hiring practices of firms in the first quarter added upward push to the unemployment rate,” he added.

The job quality in March improved as the underemployment rate eased to 11% from 12.4% a month earlier and from 11.2% a year ago. It was the lowest underemployment rate since September 2023.

Underemployed Filipinos — those who want longer work hours or an additional job — fell by 686,000 to 5.39 million from February. The number of underemployed Filipinos dropped by 51,000 from a year earlier.

Underemployment eased to 12.4% last quarter from 12.7% a year ago.

The PSA said the employment rate fell to 96.1% in March from 96.5% in February. The rate was 95.3% a year earlier.

The number of employed Filipinos rose by 202,000 month on month to 49.15 million in March, compared with 48.58 million a year earlier.

The employment rate rose to 96% in the first quarter from 95.2% a year ago.

The statistics agency noted that month on month, the country’s labor force — made up of people who are employed and unemployed but seeking work, as well as first-time job seekers — rose by 407,000 to 51.15 million in March.

It said 51 million people were part of the labor force in March 2023.

This translated to a labor force participation rate of 65.3%, compared with 64.8% a month earlier and 66% a year ago.

The average Filipino employee worked for 40.7 hours a week.

Carlos Miguel S. Oñate, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines legislative officer, said the rise in the participate rate showed that more Filipinos were seeking jobs.

He added that labor rights should be upheld through upskilling and by creating new job opportunities especially for fresh graduates.

In a statement, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the government would continue to prioritize the creation of high-quality and well-paying jobs.

“We will focus on attracting job-generating investments from the private sector and scaling up social and physical infrastructure to improve our people’s employment prospects to achieve this goal,” he said. “These will be accompanied by reskilling and upskilling programs to increase employability.”

The biggest monthly job loss in March was seen in agriculture and forestry, which slashed 318,000 workers to 9.04 million. It was followed by transportation and storage, which was 292,000 workers down to 3.56 million, and construction, where workers fell by 214,000 to 4.55 million.

Month-on-month job gains were recorded in public administration and defense, which was up by 606,000 to 3.29 million, manufacturing which added 351,000 jobs to 4.02 million, and information and communications which was up by 159,000 to 529,000.

Year on year, agriculture and forestry shed the most workers at 881,000, followed by fishing and aquaculture which was down by 449,000 to 1.03 million, and accommodation and food service activities which fell by 118,000 to 2.56 million.

On the other hand, wholesale and retail trade posted the biggest yearly job gains in March after hiring 963,000 more workers to 10.75 million. Manufacturing added 553,000 workers to 4.02 million, while public administration and defense was up by 229,000.

“The unemployment rate will continue to be pressured upwards in April because of inflation,” Mr. Terosa said.

He cited the need to monitor proposals for a legislated wage increase, which he said could lead to gloomy job prospects.

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