THE Department of Labor and Employment said on Thursday that it plans to make micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) the focus of improving the quality of jobs, following the release of underemployment data earlier this week.

“MSMEs are at the forefront of entrepreneurial innovation and serve as a buffer during economic downturns and displacement,” Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma said in a speech at the 2022 National Productivity Conference streamed online.

“The challenge remains the quality of jobs and we hope to see more full-time, decent and quality jobs.”

Job quality continued to worsen in September as the percentage of the employed who said they are seeking more work rose to a six-month high of 15.4%. This translates to about 7.33 million classified as underemployed, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said on Tuesday.

The unemployment rate for that month dropped to 5%, the lowest since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Laguesma said the recovery from the pandemic remains on track.

“Our current growth path does not only show that we are nearing pre-pandemic growth levels but we are actually poised to exceed them in the coming months,” he said.

“We all know how important MSMEs are in driving growth, employment generation and creating income opportunities for our workers.”

MSMEs have outsized representation in rural areas, Michael L. Ricafort, chief economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., said in a Viber message.

The PSA reported last year that MSMEs account for 99.58% of the 1.08 million businesses in the Philippines.

“Improving logistics, capacitating in digital technology (even in paying taxes), and reducing red tape, among others, will help MSMEs provide more jobs,” China Banking Corp. Chief Economist Domini S. Velasquez said in a Viber message.

Separately, Mr. Laguesma said that National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) and regional tripartite wage boards are closely monitoring inflation as labor groups continue to press for higher wages.

Mr. Laguesma has said that he asked the NWPC to study the need for another wage increase in light of soaring prices.

At least nine regions are set to receive the second and third tranches of pay hikes ordered in June.

The department has said all regional minimum wages will be reset by between P30 and P110.

Workers need higher wages to deal with the increasing prices of food and utilities, Federation of Free Workers Vice-President Julius H. Cainglet said via phone on Tuesday.

Headline inflation surged to 7.7% in October from 6.9% in September, the largest increase in nearly 14 years.

“We will prudently take into account the need to balance the interests of workers and employers, especially at this time when our economic recovery is still at its very early stages,” said Mr. Laguesma said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez