By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE International Labour Organization (ILO) projected Philippine unemployment numbers at 1.1 million in 2022, about 10% higher than pre-pandemic levels, but warned that unemployment data may undercount the extent to which people exited the work force during the public health crisis.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic triggered “a large exit from the labor force, which does not count as unemployed,” according to Khalid Hassan, director of the ILO Philippine country office.

In an e-mail on Tuesday, Mr. Khalid added: “The employment impact is much larger than what unemployment shows.”

“We now expect people to be returning at a slower pace, as we see the labor force numbers gradually increasing from… 42 million in 2020 to 45.9 million in 2022 and 47.4 million in 2023,” he added. The rate at which workers exit the labor force may be diminishing as workers become less afraid of the pandemic. 

Women, however, will continue to be burdened by the additional home duties needed during the crisis, with the result that the disproportionate impact on women will persist, he said.

Kilusang Mayo Uno Chairman Elmer Labog called the ILO projection “actually a quite generous estimate… because the reality on the ground is very different.”

In an e-mail to BusinessWorld, Mr. Labog, a Senate candidate, said employment data do not reflect many who are either unpaid for their work or self-employed.

“This is not a good sign that the economy is recovering despite what the Duterte administration says. There is no real job creation. People are just making do with what employment opportunities are there — and this is not a way to make a decent living,” Mr. Labog said.

He noted the absence of any industry that can accommodate the growing workforce and prevailing anti-worker policies such as low wages, contractualization, and the non-recognition of union rights.

He also said the government has not put in place safety nets for the unemployed. “We’ve seen how disastrous this has been when millions were thrown (out of work) … without any aid or support from the government.”

Partido Manggagawa Chairman Rene Magtubo told BusinessWorld in a text message that ILO’s estimates are likely on the low side.

The Philippine Statistics Authority’s labor force survey estimated unemployed numbers in November 2021 at 3.16 million, he said, “and given that no robust economic recovery program is being implemented by the present administration this year, I don’t think that the number of unemployed persons in 2022 will settle down to the 1.1 million level as estimated by the ILO.”

Mr. Magtubo said 2022 is an election year, with the winner’s programs not likely to kick in until the new government settles in by “the end of the year.”

Associated Labor Union Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that the outcome of the 2022 national and local elections is nevertheless expected to have a major impact on employment, if the right priorities for job creation are pursued.

“A questionable election result, wrong choice of executive government leaders and wrong government priorities will definitely discourage job creators,” he added.

Mr. Tanjusay also noted that the vaccination rate will determine the resilience of the workforce and businesses as COVID-19 evolves. “… An inadequate vaccination rate will sink the economy again (due to) the possibility of an attack of a more powerful COVID-19 variant.”

“Labor markets remain a long way from recovery not just in the Philippines but also in many countries. Challenges related to underemployment, poverty, and a lack of decent work, remain greater than they were before COVID-19 hit,” Mr. Hassan said.

In a separate statement, the ILO noted that its “most negative” labor market outlooks were for Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, while the recovery is expected to be strongest in high-income countries.

The recovery outlook in 2022 was dimmed by the impact of new coronavirus variants, specifically Delta and Omicron, and the uncertainty brought about by the prolonged pandemic, it said.

The projected deficit in hours worked globally is the equivalent of 52 million full-time jobs, higher than the previous full-year estimate made in May of 26 million.

“This latest projection… remains almost 2% below the number of global hours worked pre-pandemic,” according to the ILO World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2022 report.

According to the report, global unemployment is expected to remain above pre-COVID-19 levels until at least 2023. The number of jobless in 2022 is estimated at 207 million, higher than the 186 million in 2019.

“Two years into this crisis, the outlook remains fragile and the path to recovery is slow and uncertain,” ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said in the statement. “We are already seeing potentially lasting damage to labor markets, along with concerning increases in poverty and inequality.”

“Many workers are being required to shift to new types of work — for example in response to the prolonged slump in international travel and tourism,” he added.

This damage is likely to require years to repair with potential long-term consequences for labor force participation, household incomes, and social and political cohesion.

“There can be no real recovery from this pandemic without a broad-based labor market recovery,” Mr. Ryder said, “and to be sustainable, this recovery must be based on the principles of decent work — including health and safety, equity, social protection and social dialogue.”

Philippines’ jobless rate to trend lower by 2023