DOLE: Lockdowns could derail employment gains

Another round of lockdowns could derail the country’s efforts to bring down local unemployment rate back to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique R. Tutay disclosed they are currently monitoring the possible escalation of the alert level in Metro Manila and other parts of the country amid a report rise in Covid-19 cases in the said areas.

She said any escalation in the alert level could affect the country’s recovery efforts.

“I do hope we don’t go back to [Alert] Level 2 or 3 because currently there are discussions that said alert levels may be reimposed,” Tutay said in a virtual forum last Monday for the 40th anniversary of the DOLE’s Bureau of Local Employment (BLE).

“We hope there will be no such [escalation] since we want the economy to continue to remain open,” she added.

The Department of Health (DOH) reported 4,634 new Covid-19 cases from June 20 to 26, 2022, which translates to 662 cases per day, or a 53 percent jumps compared to the previous week.

Currently, the National Capital Region and most parts of the country are already under Alert Level 1 where establishments and public transportation are allowed to operate at full capacity.

In areas where there are higher alert levels, business operations and public transportation are restricted to minimize the spread of infection.

Improving figures

BLE said the unemployment rate started to slow down last year reaching 7.3 percent from a whopping 10.3 percent in 2020 following the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

This after the government started to ease movement and quarantine restrictions.

BLE also noted that total employment nationwide in 2022 already reached 44 million, which was higher compared to the 42.4 million during the pre-pandemic period.

Tutay said DOLE is currently proposing measures to the next administration, which could further boost the pandemic recovery of the labor market.

Among their proposed initiatives will be the continuation of the government’s infrastructure projects as well as expanding the implementation of their Government Internship Program (GIP).

Higher budget

Under GIP, BLE in partnership with national or local governments, provide internship opportunities for three to six months to selected high school, technical vocational or college student beneficiaries.

Tutay noted no less than the National Economic and Development Authority recognized the importance of the program, especially during the pandemic, which greatly reduced internship opportunities for students.

“They see the value of the program to provide skills and also for the learners to be able to acquire experience because we know that in the last two years, there are no such opportunities for them to do so,” Tutay said.

The labor official said they hope to be able to increase the current GIP budget of P600 million to about a billion for next year.

Digital opportunities

Tutay said they are also banking on the policy pronouncement of President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. to improve the country’s digital infrastructure and policies to generate more employment opportunities.

“Employment nowadays goes beyond borders. You can have opportunities abroad using the online platform,” she added.

This was apparent from the rising in-demand jobs in the last two years, which now includes cyber security specialist, digital marketer, user interface designer, front end web developers, software developer, according to DOLE.

However, Tutay said, many are still unable to have access to such virtual jobs due to lack of access to the Internet.

“We have to make sure to bring such infrastructure to the farthest corner of the country so jobseekers who cannot travel to urban areas will have such opportunities,” Tutay said.

The digital infrastructures, she said, should be accompanied by the necessary policies to protect the rights of online workers, who usually have overseas employers.

“Many become victims of such employment facilitation, which is being done outside the policies of the government. So these workers should be protected,” Tutay said.