Renew, revitalize labor sector hard-hit by COVID-19

Published May 12, 2021, 12:03 AM

by Manila Bulletin

It has been nearly two years since the labor sector enjoyed prime time attention.  That was when President Duterte vetoed the Security of Tenure Act passed by Congress in answer to the clamor for ending “abusive” practices in labor-only contracting – popularly known as “endo” – that was a hot issue in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

The government heeded the spirited appeal of the business sector on the possible deleterious consequences of the proposed law that, they opined, would deter foreign investments and negate the country’s steady pace of consistent economic growth that had enabled the attainment of investment grade ratings in global finance.

But COVID-19 has inflicted serious damage on the country’s economy; the labor sector is concededly the biggest loser.  According to a recent report of the International Labor Organization (ILO):

“One quarter of total employment in the Philippines is likely to be disrupted by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and labor market, either through decreased earnings and working hours or complete job loss. This

translates to about 10.9 million workers. Women account for 38 percent of the jobs at risk of COVID-19 disruption.”

Zooming in on the direct impact of the national heath emergency, digital disruption was flagged as a factor affecting “an estimated 7.2 million workers (who) are exposed to a double tiered risk of job disruption due to digitalization and COVID-19.”

ILO introduces two terms, “collapsing” occupations facing high risk of destructive digitalization and low potential for transformative digitalization, while “machine terrain” occupations refer to occupations facing high risk of destructive digitalization and high potential for transformative digitalization. Those affected by the double whammy are workers 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.

On a third front: “The negative labor market impact of the pandemic is more pronounced among vulnerable and part-time workers, young people, overseas Filipino workers, women, and healthcare and medical workers.”

In its Labor Day statement, the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), a public advocacy organization made up of former senior government officials, academicians and business leaders, called for the convening of “a tripartite conference among government, the private business sector, and labor groups to come out with a whole of society solution to the massive unemployment problem caused by the pandemic.”

Top of the agenda will be a review of the country’s “outdated” labor laws – the present Labor Code was enacted in 1974 – that impede the growth of labor-intensive industries and hinder attainment of higher employment growth rates.  They emphasize the importance of creating “an environment conducive to job generation while simultaneously protecting the rights of workers to decent livelihood.”

This approach is deemed vital in responding to the pandemic-induced disruptions in employment as well as the threats posed by the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Crafting a new social contract that balances the interests of labor and capital would be beneficial to the nation.