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Hundreds of Philippine Workers Losing Jobs Daily

Inquirer.net, News Report, Kristine L. Alave / Philippine Daily Inquirer Posted: Jan 23, 2009

MANILA, Phils. --- Hundreds of people in the Philippines are losing their jobs every day as the global economy slows, Philippine Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said Friday.

Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 19, some 15,600 workers were laid off, Roque said in a radio interview.

Over the same period, 19,000 others had their shifts or working hours reduced.

Just for today it was reported to us that 458 people nationwide could lose their jobs, Roque said.

He said most of the job cuts were happening in the electronics sector, which has suffered from plunging global demand.

The sector employs 480,000 people and accounts for nearly 70 percent of Philippine exports.

After US chip maker Intel Corp. announced the closure of a chip testing plant in Cavite this week with the loss of 1,800 jobs, Roque warned Thursday that up to 60,000 Filipinos could lose their jobs this year, mainly in the electronics and garments industries.

Roque said he did not keep comparative figures for previous years, but stressed:

This is not normal. This is not business as usual.

Job creation is a chronic problem in the Philippines, where more than 27 million Filipinosnearly one in threelive on a dollar a day or less, according to official figures.

About a third of the labor force is jobless or underemployed, and around eight million of the countrys able-bodied citizens have gone abroad for temporary work.

The overseas workers remitted some $15 billion to their families in the 11 months to November 2008, according to the central bank.

Roque stressed that jobs are still being created in the Philippines, citing 600 new hires reported Thursday in the Calabarzon industrial belt south of Manila, where most of the electronics jobs had been lost.

These are mainly manufacturing jobs that have no connection to the electronics sector, he said.

Meanwhile, about 3,000 Filipinos are still flying out of the Philippines daily for contractual work abroad, he added.

A total of 1.3 million Filipinos found work abroad last year, up 24 percent from calendar year 2007, he said.

Tip of the iceberg

The closure of the Intel plant is just the tip of the iceberg and the Arroyo government should brace for more layoffs, plant shutdowns and dire economic indicators that will continue beyond 2010, economic and labor experts said on Friday.

The most optimistic forecast is that the US economy will recover in 2010. The Philippines recovery will come after that. The Philippines recovery cannot precede that, said Benjamin Diokno, a former labor secretary at a labor forum at the Asian Institute of Management sponsored by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center.

And even if the US and other major economies recover next year, their revival will not be a strong one, he said.

Diokno, who now teaches at the University of the Philippines School of Economics, estimated that 500,000 Filipinos here and abroad will lose their jobs as the global recession deepens.

The economies of the top 10 export destinations of Philippine exports are expected to get worse in 2009 and a weak recovery is projected in 2010 ... Weaker economies means lower demand for Philippine products. Weaker export demand means more layoffs, he said.

Since last year, he said a major export firm, the watchmaker Timex Corp. has been scaling down its local operations and laying off employees.

Its just the tip of the iceberg. If two major exporters are in trouble, what more the smaller ones? he said.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said more than 3,000 Filipinos working in Taiwanese factories were laid off during the month of December. Labor officials in Taiwan said the number could rise to 6,000 by June.

Rising underemployment

Rene Ofreneo, a professor at the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations, said underemployment will grow in the coming years as more and more Filipinos take on jobs they have previously turned down just to survive in these hard times.

Diokno said the number of Filipinos taking on jobs that they do not like has been increasing. The number of underemployed increased by 248,000 from 6,376,000 in April 2007 to 6,626,000 in April 2008, he said.

Ofreneo and Diokno are pessimistic about the prospects of creating jobs for displaced Filipinos. According to Ofreneo, the government cannot just retrain overseas Filipino workers for new types of work as they tend to be more negative in their outlook.

Worst people to train

The worst people to train are those in crisis. Those who should be retrained are people who still have jobs and looking for better work, he said.

The two academics said the P330-billion economic stimulus package approved by Congress should be spent in modernizing the agricultural sector instead of building new highways and roads.

It should instead be used to improve the neglected rural sector by building irrigation facilities and farm-to-market roads.

The money would also be better spent on maintenance of existing infrastructure and away from big projects, said Diokno.

Government should also earmark funds for reforestation projects, said Diokno, as this is pro-poor and would create many jobs.

With Abigail L. Ho and AFP

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