Labor pains

Published April 24, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Jejomar C. Binay Former Vice President
Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President

By Jejomar C. Binay

Former Vice President

 

In a few days we will be observing Labor Day. But there seems to be little to celebrate for 36,617 formal and informal workers in Boracay who will be displaced by the island’s looming six month shutdown.

As reported in media, workers and even their employers are concerned about the absence of a clear employment and assistance plan. It is a valid concern. After all, we are not only closing down an island. We are also removing a source of income and livelihood for thousands of people.

A news report said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has yet to finish validating the list of workers who will be affected. It has yet to finish a skills matching program to match the workers’ skill sets with job openings elsewhere. There are assurances of job openings once the government begins its infrastructure rehabilitation. Government would need workers for road widening, demolishing illegal structures, building a sewerage system, and recovering wetlands. But majority of the affected workers are in the service industry. They are not manual workers. They are waiters, cooks, bartenders, hotel staff.

And there lies the source of the unease and consternation from the island’s stakeholders: We face a looming job crisis and so far the stakeholders say no concrete plans are being offered. Looking after the welfare of 36,617 workers appears to be an afterthought.

Here in Metro Manila, some 4,000 workers of the MIASCOR Groundhandling Corporation are now jobless after the government terminated the company’s contract to handle cargo. The unilateral action came after an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) complained of theft. Six cargo handlers have been terminated but apparently that was not enough. For the misdeeds of six employees, thousands also had to suffer. Government, again, has nothing to offer them other than job fairs.

The seeming aimless approach to Boracay’s job crisis and the perceived indifference to the plight of MIASCOR workers are emblematic of a predisposition for rushed responses to hasty decisions. And I am not singling out this administration. This seems to part of our government culture.

Governance is done on a day to day, piecemeal basis. Policies seem to be made on a whim. Medium and long term plans are revised or discarded with every change in administration to reflect personal or political priorities of the new leadership. Sometimes, a snap decision is enough to wreak havoc on the best plans.

There seems to be no sense of urgency, until the problem is right at government’s doorstep. Then you have bureaucrats frantically looking for palliatives.

For example, does government have a plan to address the shift to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in certain industries?

Manufacturing and business process outsourcing (BPO) are turning more and more to AI to improve operational efficiency. Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia estimates that AI will hit the BPO sector “harder” within the next three to five years.

The BPO industry says around 43,000 low-skilled workers could lose their jobs from 2016 to 2022 due to the shift to AI. However, opportunities will open for 697,000 middle to high-skilled jobs.

The BPOs are working with government to help upgrade the skills of call center agents. But how does government plan to assist low-skilled workers – estimated at 43,000 – who will lose their jobs to robots?

Perhaps it’s about time for government to explore the concept of unemployment insurance.

Last year, the Social Security System (SSS) did announce the inclusion of unemployment benefits for its members in its proposed SSS Reform Act.

The former SSS Chairman Amado Valdez said the state-run pension fund “plans” to partner with private insurance firms “to ensure that SSS members who are unemployed, without fault of their own, will be given the necessary benefits to cover for situations where no employment is available.”

The SSS proposal is a good start. Sadly, after the departure of Valdez from the agency, not much has been heard about the proposed unemployment insurance coverage for workers. After all, even the SSS said it was just a plan.

Authorities are always fond of assuring the public that they have a “plan.” I am tempted to remind them of a quote from a famous boxer: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in face.”

Meanwhile, thousands of workers will be observing Labor Day out of work, casualties of lack of foresight and hasty decisions. It seems they are the ones who got the hardest punch.

 

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