Repatriated Filipino workers have their papers processed after being allowed to go home following weeks of quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Parañaque City, May 26. — REUTERS

THE Labor department chief expects the country’s labor market, battered by the coronavirus pandemic, to recover in one to two years.

“When we talk of rebound, my estimate is between one to two years. We cannot expect an immediate rebound in six months,” Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said during “Flattening the Unemployment Curve,” a webinar hosted by human capital solutions provider Viventis on Wednesday.

“We are relying on our technology, BPO[s] (business process outsourcing), agribusiness, and especially the implementation of the ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure project…, which is [under the industry of] construction,” Mr. Bello added.

Amid the pandemic, unemployment rate surged to 17.7% in April from a year earlier, the highest since the government adopted new definitions for the Labor Force Survey in 2005, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority’s latest round of the survey.

This translated to 7.25 million jobless Filipinos, more than three times from 2.27 million a year ago.

The statistics agency said the labor force size was about 41.02 million out of 73.7 million Filipinos aged at least 15 years, yielding the lowest labor force participation rate in the history of Philippine jobs market at 55.6%. In absolute terms, around three million Filipinos have left the labor force in April compared to the same month last year.

The government placed Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine starting mid-March to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), resulting in the shutdown of all economic activity except essential services.

Unemployment was targeted to go down to 3-5% by 2022, according to the government’s Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.

In the same webinar, Labor Undersecretary Benjo Santos M. Benavidez said retrenched employees are entitled to a separation pay and, if qualified, can apply for an unemployment insurance benefit from the Social Security System (SSS). By way of a long-term solution, government institutions and accredited agencies will also be opening training programs to re-skill the unemployed.

“We are in the process of profiling them, because we are just receiving the notices of the displaced,” he said.

A key feature of the Republic Act No. 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2018 is the unemployment benefit or involuntary separation insurance program, which was implemented in August 2019.

Under this program, the SSS allows qualified members who are involuntarily separated from work to claim for a cash allowance equivalent to a half of their average monthly salary credit for a maximum of two months

Members must not be more than 60 years old at the time of involuntary separation, except for underground and surface mineworkers, and racehorse jockeys whose age should not be more than 50 and 55 years old, respectively.

Laid-off applicants must submit a DoLE-issued certification establishing the nature and date of involuntary separation as well as the Notice of Termination from the employer or the Affidavit of Termination of Employment.

As for the private sector, Mr. Bello called on enterprises to facilitate digital retooling and upskilling of their employees. He also urged them to listen to the needs of their employees.

“Social dialogue is very important in these most challenging times. Consultation and tripartite collaboration are essential not only for us to understand the needs of various sectors, but also to build trust and commitment towards an effective and sustainable response,” he said. — Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo