IMPROVING QUALITY of jobs will be a key challenge for the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia and the Pacific this year, the latest report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said.

Specifically, the report, titled: Global Employment Trends 2011: the challenge of a jobs recovery, noted that, in some markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific — a grouping that covers both Southeast Asian countries and the Pacific island states, the financial crisis had affected the quality of jobs more than quantity.

But it also noted that unemployment in the two regions “has only edged down slightly” this year from 2009, “and is expected to show little change in 2011.”

It particularly noted that employment growth in the Philippines and Thailand had “remained relatively stable,” but said both countries have a large percentage of workers who are either self-employed or do unpaid family work.

This, the report said, shows that the financial crisis “had a greater effect on the quality of employment rather than quantity.”

It also noted that many countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific showed two key trends, namely that:
* despite strong economic growth, employment growth has been weak; and
* many workers in the regions are in so-called “vulnerable employment,” which the report defined as consisting of “own-account workers and unpaid family workers” involving “informal work arrangements, whereby workers typically lack adequate social protection.”

Latest available official data from the National Statistics Office show the Philippines fits in that mold.

Specifically, while the gross domestic product (GDP) grew 7.5% in the nine months to September, unemployment rate remained at 7.1% in October 2010 — the same rate a year ago. Employment rate also stayed at 92.9% in the same comparative periods.

Underemployment rate, however, involving employed people who either wanted more hours of work or another job, inched up to 19.6% from 19.4% in the same periods.

The number of the so-called underemployed rose to 7.140 million in October 2010 from 6.876 million in the same month in 2009.

For this year, the ILO sees Southeast Asia and the Pacific posting an unemployment rate of 4.9% from an estimated 5.1% last year and 5.2% in 2009. Breakdowns for individual countries were not available.

The report cited the need for governments in these regions to adopt the task of generating “full and productive employment as a core macroeconomic goal” and to improve labor productivity in order to improve job quality and reduce the ranks of the underemployed.

“Strengthening the social protection floor, education and skills development, in addition to ensuring a stronger link between productivity and wage growth, are important means through which job quality in the region can be enhanced, while at the same time supporting more balanced sources of growth that many countries in the region are seeking to foster,” the report read.

Globally, the ILO estimates that the unemployed totaled some 205 million last year, “essentially unchanged from 2009 and 27.6 million more than in 2007, the eve of the global economic crisis.” This year, the organization sees a global unemployment rate of 6.1%, equivalent to about 203 million unemployed.

It also noted that while developed countries have “persistently” shown high levels of unemployment, developing counterparts have shown “employment growth coupled with continuing high levels of vulnerable employment.” “These trends make a stark contrast with the recovery seen in several key macroeconomic indicators: global GDP, private consumption, investment, and international trade and equity markets all recovered in 2010, surpassing pre-crisis levels,” the report noted.

Global Employment Trends 2011 also dealt with trends in other regions, namely: Developed Economies and the European Union, Central and Southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America and the Caribbean, East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.