By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

FALLING unemployment is masking the phenomenon of workers taking on multiple jobs, because the work available is of low quality, labor experts said.

Rene E. Ofreneo, a labor analyst and professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines’ School of Labor and Industrial Studies, said in an interview: “In order to survive, many workers are forced to go into as many jobs as possible even if there’s no protection, even if there’s no security, and that explains this surge, this epidemic or pandemic of informality.”

The ranks of the unemployed fell to 2.47 million in February, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, down from 3.13 million the year prior.

Workers are reporting low wages and the lack of benefits and rights commensurate with their tenure and qualifications, while contractual workers both in the formal and informal economies continue to be largely denied security of tenure.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said during his election campaign that he will look into passing a security of tenure law after his predecessor Rodrigo R. Duterte failed to do so.

“Unfortunately, having started off strongly and setting high standards for socioeconomic transformation, in terms of labor conditions, we’re not seeing any movement,” Jose Enrique A. Africa, executive director of Ibon Foundation, said in a video interview.

“It would have been so important for instance for the government to genuinely push for the ‘endo’ bill, to genuinely push for questions of security of tenure,” he said.

“Endo” is a form of contractual employment where workers are not allowed to graduate to permanent status, which under the law must be granted after six months of probation.

In July, a Security of Tenure bill was filed in the House of Representatives, intended to end all forms of contractual employment that violate the right to security of tenure.

Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), one of the labor unions preparing to march on the streets of Manila on Labor Day, said the situation remains dire with the passage of such a law remaining elusive.

“We know that if the President doesn’t certify bills as urgent with the House and the Senate that these won’t be prioritized by the leadership, so in terms of contractualization, there’s really no improvement,” Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary general, said in a video interview.

He added that almost 60% to 70% of the workforce are employed in contractual arrangements.

According to the PSA, the size of the workforce rose to 51.27 million Filipinos in February, up 5.5% from a year earlier.

This is a sign that the labor market is recovering due to the lifting of restrictions that previously impeded job prospects, Arsenio M. Balisacan, National Economic and Development Authority secretary, said in a statement.

But purchasing power remains low with inflation chipping away at whatever wage gains have been made, labor leaders said.

“The prices of goods are really going up and, because of that increase, the purchasing power of workers has eroded,” Josua T. Mata, secretary general of the SENTRO labor group, said in a video interview.

He said wage adjustments have long lagged the cost of living, while job generation remains inadequate.

Mark Eugenio, 23, a seller of mobile phone accessories, said this current place of work is his third, having started at 18 as a McDonald’s crew member, and then joining Grab Kitchen. After three years, he switched to selling phone accessories.

Aldo dela Cruz, a 33-year-old seaman who was laid off and became a Lalamove delivery rider, said he must work tirelessly to make a living wage.

“You have to work really hard every day, take trips everywhere. You just have to save up and be stingy with your money, spend only what you can day to day,” he told BusinessWorld on the streets of Metro Manila.

Active wage increase petitions in almost all regions call for hikes of between P150 and P750 in the minimum wage. One is a petition seeking to raise the current P570 daily minimum wage for nonagricultural workers in the National Capital Region to P1,100.

Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said wage increases are hard on small businesses, who must either pass price increases on to consumers, greatly reduce their workforce, or close up shop.

He said in a video interview that the government “must create an atmosphere where investors want to invest here, so jobs can be created.”

The Department of Labor and Employment has been focused on improving hireability through upgraded technical skills.

“We are looking into providing responsive technical and vocational training as well as apprenticeship,” Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma said in a phone interview.

The objective is to “enhance and increase employability through skills, competency assessment, as well as following international standards,” he added.—with inputs from Patricia B. Mirasol