Today, the Filipino working class celebrates the international workers’ day against a backdrop of growing inequalities and economic turmoil. This economic lack of correspondence between “economic growth” statistics and poverty incidence have persisted as economic development failed to lead to the optimal employment of human resources, reduction of inequity, and the substantial improvement of the opportunities and lives of the poor.
We in Akbayan assert that it is of grave importance to any development program and all poverty alleviation efforts to make employment opportunities available to the poor and unemployed and ensure that wages and non–wage benefits are adequately provided and in compliance with the labor law.
As the cost of living continues to rise, minimum wage becomes increasingly inadequate for workers and their families. And because the pool of unemployed is so vast and jobs are scarce, the Filipino masses would take on any available job, forgoing the risks and the making do with the bare–minimum benefits whatever sort of employment affords. This has granted, for the longest time, the private sector the upper hand in labor–management relations.
As such, we support the workers’ call for a substantial increase to their wages by bringing it closer to the “living wage,” or the level that would allow workers to adequately meet the costs of living. This is a matter of both economic urgency and social justice. The Aquino government in cooperation with different labor organizations and other stakeholders must seriously consider a wage increase.
In the meantime, that wage increase remains unresolved, a good measure that the government can undertake is to provide, and encourage the private sector to provide, increased non–wage benefits such as tax exemptions, emergency allowance and other social security subsidies that would improve the capacity of workers and their families to weather economic difficulties.
Second, it would also be important to heed the discontentment of labor organizations regarding the powers of regional wage boards and consider their abolition. In essence, regional wage boards have been used as a means to consolidate the power of employers against labor, which has rendered its existence antithetic to its main purpose – to empower workers especially when it comes to the determination of wages.
In terms of creating jobs, we urge the administration to implement the labor–based/equipment supported (LBES) technology when undertaking infrastructure and public works construction and maintenance. Endorsed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), this means optimizing the number of laborers to construct and maintain public infrastructure, instead of the commonly preferred alternative, which is to intensify capital or equipment.
Using LBES, employment in construction projects would increase by 10 to 30 per cent, it is particularly ideal for boosting employment and social welfare in developing countries that have high unemployment rates and scores of development projects in the pipeline.
As the Aquino administration sets out to implement major infrastructure projects, it is in the best position to maximize the Philippine labor force and improve over–all welfare of the people by employing the LBES technology.
The jobs created will translate into a constant income stream for families that have had to weather the one–two punch of poverty and underdevelopment and put them on the path to improving their lives. It will pave the way for self–sustainability and reduce the poor’s dependency on conditional cash transfer programs, finally breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.
By encouraging the implementation of LB technology in infrastructure development, we are also able to ensure that the contribution of the private sector to the economy is not solely for the improvement of growth rates and other statistical economic indicators but also trickles down to grassroots communities and improves the standard of living for a majority of the population.
We also propose that the Aquino administration look into the private sector’s sub–contracting practice. Sub–contracting is the new trend in employment, the private sector minimizes costs and obligations to their employees by keeping them on short–term contracts. However, especially at a time of economic crisis, the periodic termination of employment leaves workers and their families with very little to prevent their descent into poverty. By periodically replacing employed people by unemployed ones, this employment illusion will certainly provide no improvement to the nation’s 7.4 per cent unemployment rate, nor will it have considerable contribution in the administration’s anti–poverty efforts.
It is important to ensure that employers will not make radical cuts in employment to maintain profit margins, and ensure that workers are provided with permanent employment and the corresponding benefits, as stipulated in the labor code. The Aquino administration must remain on the side of workers and regulate, and even minimize, the private sector’s sub–contracting practices.
We encourage the government to support our on–going legislative effort to redesign the rules governing contractual work and ensure the security of tenure of workers, to ensure the jobs for the Filipino people. We also call on the administration to certify the Security of Tenure bill pending in Congress as urgent.
By addressing the question of stable jobs and higher wages, it would create a wider base of working people that would serve as the fuel to the economy. As the workers’ purchasing power improves and they are able to meet the needs of their families, the better off they become, and the better they perform in their jobs.
Lastly, the government must implement a development program centered on the appropriate relationship between a strong developmental state and the economy to pursue poverty reduction in a more purposive way. The Aquino government must answer to the challenge of becoming a government that can provide a wide variety of social services including health and education, as well as job security while steadily shifting the economy away from a lack of regulation towards social safety nets of welfare benefits and programs. ###