Trade and Employment

Opening address at the Harnessing Benefits and Mitigating Risks of Trade on Employment in the Philippines: Institutional Mapping and Gap Analysis Validation Forum

By Khalid Hassan, Director, ILO Country Office for the Philippines at Harnessing Benefits and Mitigating Risks of Trade on Employment in the Philippines: Institutional Mapping and Gap Analysis Validation Forum, 30 August 2019, Manila, Philippines

Statement | Manila, Philippines | 30 August 2019
Let me first congratulate the research team of the DOLE Institute for Labor Studies headed by Executive Director Satumba, and the principal research writers Mr Villanueva and Mr Mansal for the institutional mapping and gap analysis study of trade mechanisms in the Philippines.

This research is the first-ever effort to review the country’s mechanisms for traddee negotiation, representation, and implementation as a way of determining gaps and opportunities for ensuring the labour and employment agenda in trade agreements.

Ensuring a strong linkage between trade agreements and employment is a challenge faced by developing countries such as the Philippines.

Both unilaterally and through ASEAN and the WTO, the Philippines has liberal and market-friendly trade policies in relation to more than 200 partner countries. However, we note the question of stakeholders on whether these trade policies have positively translated into more and better employment. Another question is whether firms and workers have adjusted to the pressures of more intense foreign competition, and who have been the gainers or losers.

To answers these questions, the ILO through the STRENGTHEN project, funded by the European Union has supported research analyzing how trade policies have impacted decent work and employment outcomes in the Philippines.

The research also looked at strengthening links between trade policy and decent work principles so that trade can benefit more people in the country.
The ILO country report on “The Impact of Trade on Employment in the Philippines,” cited Philippine efforts to include labour issues in trade arrangements are limited to two bilateral free trade agreements: with Japan and with EFTA countries.

While these bilateral agreements refer to labour standards compliance, these do not include enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. It also notes that the expectation that an open economy would lead to more foreign direct investments and to the creation of more jobs have yet to fully materialize.

It cites that foreign trade data have shown that the Philippines has always been a net importing country despite having entered into numerous trade agreements both at the regional and bilateral levels.

Further, for trade agreements the Philippines is negotiating, the report recommends that inclusive and participatory consultations should be held not only with stakeholders with business interests but also social actors including workers’ groups and civil society organizations.

With the country’s important trading partners such as the US and the EU countries now having labour provisions systematically in their trade agreements, it is crucial for the Philippines to have the capacity to study how such provisions serve national objectives.

It is also now becoming prudent for governments and policymakers to anticipate threats that might arise from emerging issues and trends in international trade that will likely affect their economies and labour markets.

These threats and opportunities in the labour market are included in the landmark report of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work.

As the highlight report marking the ILO Centenary this year, the Commission notes that today technological development, climate change, demographic shifts and globalization are transforming the world of work.

The need for action is urgent. We have to seize opportunities that come with these changes while ensuring that transformations do not result to widened inequalities and increased uncertainties for workers around the globe.

The Future of Work report recommends a new approach – a human centred agenda for the future of work. The agenda focused on investing in people’s capabilities, in institutions of work, and in decent and sustainable work.

Investing in institutions of work include labour regulations, employment contracts, collective agreements, labour inspection systems, which are the building blocks of just societies.

Investments in institutions of work can open channels for businesses and work to be formalized; reduce working poverty; and secure a work with dignity, economic security and equality.

Relative to trade agreements, the ILO believes that institutions must promote social dialogue among government, workers and employers to create stronger links between economic and social aspects of trade agreements.

The Future of Work report also recommends investing in decent and sustainable work that advance gender equality and creates millions of jobs and new opportunities for micro-, small and medium enterprises.

This includes incentives to promote investments in key areas, such as the care economy, the green economy, and the rural economy, as well as high-quality physical and digital infrastructure.

It also calls for changes in private sector incentive structures to encourage a long-term, human-centred approach to business that includes fair tax policies, improved corporate accounting standards, enhanced stakeholder representation, and changes in reporting practices.

It is crucial to enhance capacities of Philippine government institutions so that trade is geared toward balancing business interests with human development interventions such as those on skills development and upgrading. It also calls for more responsive social protection mechanisms for contingencies as a result of trade-related adjustments in the labour market.

These investments, as recommended by the ILO, can progressively be achieved where and when institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure coherence in trade, employment and other socio-economic policies.

We believe that current efforts to better understand the country’s institutional mechanisms for trade and to identify the gaps in capacities for ensuring the labour and employment agenda in trade agreements is along this tract.

Bearing in mind the national goals in the Philippine Development Plan and sector priorities under the Philippine Export Development Plan, it is very timely to look into the participation of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and social partners in trade issues.

Through this research collaboration, we hope we contribute to knowledge generation on the links between international trade and employment in the Philippines.

We also encourage that the research be used as guide for enhancing institutional platforms for effective, coherent and inclusive trade and employment policies in the Philippines.

With its recommendations, we believe there is scope for enhancing the capacity of DOLE and other key government agencies and social partners in formulating the Philippine position on key international trade issues and agreements that have implications on employment creation, labour standards and workers’ rights and welfare.

I look forward to the discussions on this research and eventually finalizing this output as a tool that will guide Philippine policymakers and stakeholders involved in trade and employment concerns.

As the research was done through support from the EU-funded STRENGTHEN project, we hope that the Philippines will have better capacity for trade discussions at the bilateral, regional and multi-lateral levels so that these result to inclusive employment outcomes and decent work for all.

Thank you!