The manufacturing sector shed over 300,000 jobs in February due to significant declines in employment in several subsectors, including tea production, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
In a briefing on Tuesday, National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa said 2.47 million Filipinos were without jobs during the period. This represented a decline of 651,000 jobs from February 2022 but an increase of 102,000 compared to January.
Sectors that saw the largest decline in jobs on a month-on-month basis were manufacturing which lost 319,000 jobs. In February, only 3.36 million Filipinos were employed in manufacturing from 3.68 million in January.
“Jobs can’t just disappear in droves,” University of the Philippines School of Economics Head of Research Renator
S. Recide told BusinessMirror on Tuesday. “Malaki ‘yung month-on-month loss of jobs in manufacturing.”
During the briefing, Mapa said the jobs lost in the manufacturing sector were due to five subsectors with the blending and manufacture of tea which lost 85,000 jobs followed by the manufacture of chilled or frozen meat or poultry with a decline of 62,000.
Further, the manufacture of garments for women, girls, and babies lost 61,000 jobs; manufacture of rattan products, 57,000; and production of wood furniture, 54,000.
Recide said some of these workers may have shifted to other industries which recorded a high employment growth in February.
Under services, this would be wholesale and retail trade which saw an addition of 701,000 jobs in February year-on-year and the agriculture and forestry sector which recorded an increase of 997,000 jobs on a month-on-month basis.
Mapa said, employed persons in the services sector increased to 29.1 million year-on-year in February from the previous year’s 26.48 million. Industry saw a reduction in jobs to 7.94 million in February from last year’s 8.14 million.
“No information though whether there was movement from industry to services at the individual level,” Mapa told the BusinessMirror. “Of the total unemployed in February 2023, 62,000 were previously employed in wholesale and retail trade, 41,000 were from the manufacturing sector.”
For his part, Ateneo de Manila University economist Leonardo A. Lanzona Jr. told the BusinessMirror, the lost jobs in the manufacturing sector may already be a sign that factories in the country are shifting to automation.
“Given that manufacturing output grew according to the latest data, it seems that the sector is undergoing some form of technological transformation, in the process shedding off routinary forms of jobs,” Lanzona said.
Another aspect that could be explored from the latest data is whether these jobs that were being created in other sectors show “gig work emerging from online labor platforms.”
Lanzona said these jobs are usually offer low pay and are considered irregular because most of the workers here compete with workers from other underdeveloped countries.
Based on the PSA’s data, underemployment was at 6.29 million. This was a decline of 95,000 from February 2022 and 368,000 from January.
“It remains unclear whether job quality has improved despite the decrease in underemployment. Before the pandemic, the sector which provided regular jobs with security and benefits for the relatively unskilled was manufacturing,” Lanzona said. “Last February, this sector was among those recorded as having the largest employment drop.”
Meanwhile, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) assured the public that the government remained committed to enhancing the country’s labor conditions and promoting the creation of high-quality jobs.
Neda Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said despite improvements in the employment data, challenges in improving the quality of employment across sectors still remain.
He said the government should continue its efforts to help create high-quality jobs on the demand side and ensure the upskilling and retooling of workers on the supply side.
“On the demand side, the strategy to create high-quality job opportunities begins with attracting more investments especially in infrastructure and in improving the regulatory environment. These interventions will improve the competitiveness of the entire economy and result in greater investor interest in other industries,” Balisacan said.
“Our participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the amendments to the Public Service Act pave the way for more high-paying job opportunities being made available to Filipinos,” he added.
Balisacan said the government will also boost its efforts to raise awareness among the workforce regarding the current opportunities for skill enhancement.
Currently, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) provides micro-credentialing, ladderized programs, and three-year diploma courses.
Meanwhile, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has partnered with several IT and Business Process Management (IT-BPM) companies to enhance the competencies of the workforce in accordance with industry needs.
“On the supply side, there is a need to improve the dissemination of information and awareness campaigns to encourage workers to utilize the existing resources for upskilling and retooling,” said Balisacan.
Balisacan noted that the unemployment rate among the youth, defined as individuals aged 15 to 24, decreased significantly from 14.2 percent in February 2022 to 9.1 percent this year.
The country’s labor force participation rate rose to 66.6 percent in February 2023, up from 63.8 percent during the same period in the previous year. This translates to an increase of 2.7 million Filipinos joining the labor force on a year-on-year basis, with 1.9 million of them being female.
Significant increases were observed among the prime working age group of 25 to 54 years old (+1.6 million) and among individuals who completed junior high school (+1.1 million).
Federation of Free Workers (FFW) Oresident Sonny Matula lauded the results of the Labor Force Survey (LFS), particularly the increase in the labor force participation rate.
The latest LFS also showed the employment rate remained high at 95.2 percent, while underemployment rate slowed down to 12.9 percent.
Matula noted the said improvements in the labor force indicate the economy’s recovery from the pandemic.
However, the labor leader expressed concern over the high number of the unemployed last February.
“It seems we are bouncing back from the pandemic disruption but we need to do more in the agriculture and industry sectors,” Matula said. “Therefore, we urge the government to focus more attention and resources on these sectors to create even more job opportunities that provide stability and security for workers and their families.”
Aside from the private sector, Partido Manggagawa (PM) chair Renato Magtubo said the government should also generate more employment opportunities.
“Government should not rely fully on the private sector’s capacity to generate employment but should initiate on its own a robust public employment program that would address the perennial problem of unemployment and underemployment brought about by the country’s underdeveloped economy,” Magtubo said.