MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - About 4.5 million Filipinos have lost their jobs this year, with the unemployment rate at 10.4 per cent - the highest in 15 years, the government reported, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown shuttering thousands of businesses.
But as quarantine restrictions gradually eased and the economy reopened to allow workers to return to their jobs, the jobless rate also eased to 8.7 per cent in October, National Statistician Dennis Mapa told a press conference on Thursday (Dec 3). He cited from the latest preliminary results of the Philippine Statistics Authority's quarterly labour force survey (LFS).
Labour groups, however, found no reason to celebrate, calling the supposed decline in unemployment an "illusion".
The unemployment rate in October - the highest across all the October LFS rounds since the Philippines adopted its current definition of employment in 2005 - was equivalent to 3.8 million Filipinos in the labour force who were jobless.
The jobless rate in October was below the 10 per cent rate in July, which was equivalent to 4.6 million Filipinos without jobs, and April's rate of 17.6 per cent (or 7.2 million jobless Filipinos).
The Philippines imposed the enhanced community quarantine, or ECQ, in areas with high Covid-19 cases from mid-March to May, which stopped 75 per cent of the economy.
For comparison, the unemployment rate in October last year was 4.6 per cent, or two million jobless.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua attributed the jobs recovery in October to "the reopening of the economy".
Mr Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), noted in a statement that a string of four typhoons plus the onset of a projected prolonged wet season had inflicted "significant employment loss in agriculture".
"In the latter half of October, the country was hit by Typhoons Nika, Ofel, Pepito and Quinta, which contributed to the reduction of agriculture employment by 1.1 million, or about 70 per cent of the 1.5 million jobs lost between July and October.
"Workers in the provinces also faced difficulty in returning to work given inter-province transport restrictions, and contributed to the 0.5-million loss in the industry sector," Mr Neda said.
Labour groups were not impressed by the improving data.
The "minimal" increase in the number of workers who have returned to work pales beside the "millions" of workers who lost their jobs in the continuing layoffs, according to Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Christian Magsoy.
"A mere 800,000 revived jobs… do not give us reason to celebrate," Mr Magsoy said.
The Centre of United and Progressive Workers, or Sentro, described the easing of the unemployment rate as "a complete illusion."
It said the drop could be "largely explained by the fact that at least 2.2 million workers were considered as out of the labour force."
Sentro also said the number of those employed in agriculture and manufacturing declined, while those employed in the services sector were mostly workers of family-run farms or businesses.
In the Philippine parliament, Representative Joey Salceda said the latest unemployment figures should "signal the urgent need" for one final round of stimulus measures, or Bayanihan 3.