Pinoys adjust to new work trends; pandemic exposes vulnerability

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    By PAUL ICAMINA and RUELLE CASTRO

    Two studies have highlighted the vulnerability of Filipino workers even as they continue to adapt to the new trends of employment, like remote work.

    According to projections made by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) country office in the Philippines, nearly 11 million Filipino workers, or a fourth of total employment, have had their jobs disrupted due to the pandemic.

    Management consultant Willis Towers Watson meanwhile in a study said the proportion of employees working from home in the Philippines is expected to reach 34 percent by 2023, more than 10 times than  3 percent in 2017.

    In preparation for a Jobs Summit on May 1, the ILO has worked closely with the Department of Labor and Employment on studies assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the labor market as well as on how technological changes are affecting jobs and workers.

    Disruptions come either as decreased earnings and working hours or complete job loss, the ILO’s COVID-19 Labor Market Impact in the Philippines report says.

    The high-risk industries are manufacturing, transportation and storage, accommodation and food service activities, and arts, entertainment and recreation.

    They are least likely to remain open because of pandemic containment measures in place or are likely to happen.

    Overall, wholesale and retail trade, transportation and storage, construction, and accommodation and food services have the highest risk of job disruption. About 7.8 million workers, one-third of which are women, will be affected.

    About 900,000 jobs, or more than one-fifth of total manufacturing employment, are vulnerable to job disruptions.

    The extent of potential job disruption is most severe in the electrical and electronic equipment, in textiles and footwear.

    The likely impact on jobs in food products, wood and wood products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and print and reproduction of recorded media appear to be less pronounced.

    An estimated 7.2 million workers are exposed to a double-tiered risk of job disruption –digitalization and COVID-19, the ILO report projects.

    It says digital technology will accelerate during the pandemic so that health and safety measures will keep economic activities running.

    At high risk are occupations in accommodation and food services and in arts, entertainment and recreation industries such as waiters, cooks, kitchen helpers, food service counter attendants and fast- food preparers and bookmakers.

    The negative labor market is more pronounced among vulnerable and part-time workers, young people, overseas Filipino workers, women and healthcare and medical workers.

    In the first quarter of 2020, about 460,000 workers were employed in the human health and social work activities. Many of these workers have faced increased exposure to occupational health risks due to COVID-19.

    While they are not susceptible to job displacement, the pandemic have had negative impact, including burnout, overexertion and other mental health problems.

    About a third of the total Philippine workforce is engaged in vulnerable employment. These are contributing family workers and own-account workers. They tend to be paid less, enjoy little labor protection and are likely to be exposed to occupational hazards.

    Vulnerable employment, as well as part-time employment, is highly prevalent in transportation and storage, accommodation and food services, and wholesale and retail trade.

    With the youth unemployment rate registering a sharp year-on-year spike from 12.9 per cent to 31.6 per cent in April 2020, many young workers face severe disruptions in education and training, employment and incomes and magnified job search constraints.

    The jobs of around 1.7 million young people or 27 percent of the 15 to 24 age group are at risk.

    More than half or 58 percent are young men. Especially at risk are construction, transportation and storage and manufacturing.

    The jobs of young women in the wholesale and retail trade sector and in accommodation and food service are likely to be more heavily affected.

    overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and women workers are also vulnerable.

    The repatriated OFWs were forced to leave their jobs abroad given that almost all destination countries are affected by the pandemic.  They face uncertain job prospects at home and encounter re-entry challenges.

    Among women workers, as many as 4.1 million are likely to face job disruption, particularly in industries such as wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food service activities.

    Meanwhile,  Willis Towers Watson conducted the flexible work and rewards survey  between October and November last year where 434 organizations across Asia Pacific participated, including 47 companies in the Philippines.

    “Respondents employ 1.26 million employees across 14 markets,” Willis Towers Watson said.

    “The pandemic pushed organizations to consider remote work and other flexible work arrangements. This practice will most likely continue as part of the new normal as companies realize that flexible work arrangements play a significant role in employee productivity and engagement,” said Patrick Marquina, Willis Towers Watson head of talent & rewards.

    Marquina added that nine in 10 respondents (95 percent) cited employee safety concerns as one of the main reasons for providing alternative work arrangements, with “flextime” as the most typical form last year (35 percent).

    He also said two thirds (66 percent) of the respondents were aware that this flexibility could promote employee retention and help improve inclusion and diversity (55 percent).

    “Despite the high levels of remote working anticipated in the future, only one in seven companies think their current job architecture and job levelling process support developing a flexible and agile workforce,” Marquina said.

    “Furthermore, nearly one fifth (17 percent) of employers still do not have policies in place to manage flexible work arrangements, and about two thirds just created a formal policy last year,” he added.

    He said an integrated work strategy supported by technology and strong digital capability will enable companies to maximize the full potential of emerging work arrangements.

    “The survey found that only a small percentage of employers have an integrated digital and business strategy (30 percent) and a basic, reactive digital strategy with rudimentary digital capabilities (28 percent),” Marquina said.

    He noted the need for employers to examine the future state of their organization overall and decide how they can make the most of their new agile workforce.

    Three out of 5 respondents, meanwhile, said their flexible work policies would not have much of a significant impact on their overall pay budget.

    “However, nearly half (47 percent) are recognizing that the new requirements for work require a hybrid model for pay and rewards,” Marquina said.

    “With spend on pay unlikely to change significantly, companies are anticipating that any savings they make will come from real estate, where 48 percent are expecting to reduce their spend over the next three years. A third (32 percent) also expect savings from expenses connected to commuting to work, such as transportation and travel,” he added.

    According to Marquina, some of these savings are being channeled to facilitate the necessary changes to the companies’ total rewards programs, such as equipping employees to work from home or for the health and wellbeing programs to support employees in a more agile and flexible workplace in the future.