Grim unemployment scenario | Inquirer Business
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Grim unemployment scenario

Last week, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) confirmed the damage that COVID-19 and the lockdown measures the government imposed to contain it had wrought on employment.

According to the PSA, some 4.5 million Filipinos lost their jobs in 2020, the highest since April 2005. The unemployment rate rose 10.3 percent compared to 5.1 percent in 2019.

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Although vaccines against the virus are already available, it is doubtful if the pandemic would substantially abate in the Philippines in light of reports that its variants have been detected in various parts of the country.

This means, the revival of regular business activities and creation of additional employment may have to wait a little longer. Meantime, the government had announced that President Duterte would soon sign an executive order creating the National Employment Recovery Strategy Task Force.

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The task force’s objective is “to improve employability and productivity of workers and to provide support to existing and emerging businesses.”

As reported, it would be cochaired by the Department of Labor, Department of Trade and Industry and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Its members would include all executive departments, except the Departments of National Defense, Finance and Budget and Management, the Commission on Higher Education and the National Security Council. As of this writing, the executive order creating that task force has yet to be signed and released to the public.

Noticeably, the business sector or associations that represent the country’s major business organizations, e.g., Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are not included in the task force. The omission is glaring. Bear in mind that if employment opportunities have to be generated to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic, the jobs have to come from the business or private sector.

Except for government-sponsored public works projects and short-term government employment, there is no way the government can create the jobs needed to bring back the economy to its prepandemic level. Besides, considering the trillions of pesos in debts the government has incurred to fight the pandemic, creating new jobs in government offices to ease the unemployment problem would only aggravate the country’s economic problems. The business sector deserves a seat in the task force because, first, it is their capital that would create employment; and second, they know the lay of the ground and have hands-on experience on what business activity would help resuscitate the economy.

No offense meant, but the proposed task force members are all bureaucrats who are expected to think along government practices, policies and procedures that have been in place for ages, or before something as financially catastrophic as the COVID-19 pandemic has happened. The unemployment problem caused by the crisis is unprecedented. Although government has the primary responsibility of attending to it, private sector participation in that endeavor is essential because the latter has much to contribute to its solution. Of course, the task force can invite business executives or economic experts to act as consultants or submit position papers, but past experiences have shown that such arrangements do not work in government-initiated working committees.

For reasons of pride or fear of being upstaged and, in the process, losing face, most government officials are averse to the idea of somebody who does not belong to their loop, especially private citizens giving them advice on how to handle matters within their areas of responsibility.

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That attitude has no place at this time when the country is in the midst of a serious unemployment problem.

At the height of the pandemic last year, the business sector voluntarily shared its resources with the government to, among others, ease the medical and financial needs of the front-liners. A similar public-private partnership on the creation of employment opportunities or livelihood for displaced Filipino workers would, no doubt, be in the country’s best interests. INQ

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