Senators pressed the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Thursday to come up with concrete, long-term plans to help boost employment and economic recovery in the country.
During the Senate Committee on Finance subcommittee J deliberation of the DoLE's proposed 2021 budget, Sen. Imee Marcos observed the lack of a "data-driven national job strategy" by the agency to respond to the unemployment problem arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted the 53.7-percent increase in the DoLE's budget from P17.9 billion this year to P27.5 billion proposed for next year.
"Bigay kami ng bigay ng pera, parang wala naman kaming nakikitang long-term na job strategy (We keeping on giving you funds, and yet we do not see any long-term job strategy)," Marcos said as she also cited the over P7-billion additional funds given to the DoLE under the Bayanihan 1 as well as the P13 billion more allocated to the agency under Bayanihan 2 law.
Marcos said the DoLE's existing programs for displaced workers -- the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) cash assistance program, and the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) -- were "all just temporary, emergency strategies."
"All these support, subsidies, okay lang po 'yan pansamantala (that's okay in the meantime) -- wala tayong magawa, eh (we have no choice) -- but we all know that the economic crisis will last longer than the health crisis...'Di naman babalik agad, babango ang ekonomiya sa dati (Our economy will not immediately return to normal)," she said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, who leads the budget hearing, said he agrees with Marcos. He recalled asking the DoLE last month for its report on the profiling and mapping of skills of the pandemic-displaced workers.
Villanueva also questioned why the DoLE's proposed 2021 allocation for employment facilitation program "have either decreased or not changed at all."
"I don't know what the rationale behind this because if we have massive job dsiplacements, all the more that job facilitation should be ramped up," he said.
"Because at the end of the day, we need a real, concrete employment recovery plan, that relies on employment facilitation, support to MSMEs, real and sustainable livelihood programs," said Villanueva, who also chairs the Senate Committee on Labor.
In response, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that the DoLE has "institutionalized" programs that aim to preserve employment during crises.
"Like the TUPAD. That is not an emergency program, it is an ongoing program of our department...Under that program we have a wage subsidy program for the employers where the employers are requested not to terminate their workers on condition that we will provide them subsidy in the payment of the salaries of maybe 25 percent of the salary of the employees," he explained.
He also cited their Special Program of the Employment of Students (SPES) providing temporary employment to poor students, out-of-school youth, and dependents of displaced workers.
Bello said, however, that their budget proposal for the TUPAD program was slashed by 60 percent by the Budget department, from P70 billion to P27 billion. "That actually deprived the department of one of its major programs for work preservation. Sayang po (It's regrettable), that would (have been) a long-term program for the preservation of our workers," he said.
But Marcos was still not convinced with the programs cited by Bello.
"It is not really a long term job strategy for ending unemployment in the wake of COVID(-19)."
"The unemployment crisis that has come out of the namidce is not business as usual. We need to have new plans, new programs, ratchet up all these efforts," she said.
DoLE Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said they have been working closely with the National Economic and Development Authority for the employment recovery program and that they are identifying "key employment generators" amid the shift to new normal and challenges in the pandemic.
During the hearing, Bello said that according to DoLE's latest data, unemployment rate has declined 10.4 percent, while underemployment rate is at 17.3 percent.