March jobs data point to improved labor market

Commuters wait for public transportation along Ortigas Extension in Cainta, Rizal, Sept. 14, 2022. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ WALTER BOLLOZOS

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE easing of the jobless and underemployment rates in March indicate a stabilizing job market, analysts said.

“Moving forward, we expect more of the same in the labor market outlook,” Domini S. Velasquez, chief economist at China Banking Corp., said in a Viber message. 

“However, there is a risk of a trend reversal if the business outlook weakens amidst a moderating economy,” she added.

The unemployment rate in March eased to 4.7% from 4.8% a month earlier, the Philippine Statistics Authority said on Monday.

Job quality improved that month with the underemployment rate, a measure of workers seeking further employment or longer hours, fell to 11.2%, the lowest level since 2005.

“Slight improvement for both unemployment and underemployment rates bode well for the growth outlook,”  ING Bank N.V. Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa said in a Viber message.

He added that both measures should hover around the same levels with economic activity still expected to expand.

The number of employed stood at 48.58 million in March, a decline of 216,000 from February and a 1.61 million increase from March 2022.

The employment rate increased to 95.3% in March from 95.2% a month earlier.

The Department of Finance  has characterized the March’s employment readings as pointing to the continuous improvement of the labor market.

“With labor force participation up and unemployment and underemployment down, more Filipinos are actively joining the labor force and getting jobs,” Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said. “These continued improvements indicate that our economy is poised for continued recovery and growth.”

Josua T. Mata, secretary general of Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, said the government should ensure that labor rights are protected as employment indicators improve.

“Since jobs are gradually recovering, it is time we focus on the aspects of the labor market not reflected in the rosy employment data — labor rights are still not protected in this country,” he said in a Viber message.

“Employment figures will continue to improve as expected and hopefully external shocks will not derail the recovery.”

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on April 30 signed an executive order creating an inter-agency body that will investigate labor rights violations targeting trade unionists.

According to Executive Order No. 23, the task force on labor rights violations will be chaired by the executive secretary and co-headed by the labor secretary.

Mr. Mata said the task force is a step in the right direction, but cited the need for the government to bolster cooperation with organized labor.

“It also falls short of the spirit of the International Labour Organization (ILO) High-Level Tripartite Mission as the EO 23 was drafted without the participation of workers,” he said.

In February, a team of ILO representatives met with trade unions and government officials to discuss human rights violations against workers and union organizers.

That month, trade unions submitted a joint report to the ILO mission on labor rights violations.

The labor groups said the government has consistently failed to comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and the right to organize.