Labor under an Aquino presidency

Published by rudy Date posted on May 27, 2010

In his Googled biography, apparent president-elect Noynoy Aquino was portrayed having the utopian dream of an industrialized Philippines where finding jobs will be a matter of choice for workers and not of necessity.

Noynoy’s vision is a high degree of economic growth where there will be such a surfeit of high-paying jobs that workers will no longer be forced to seek overseas employment.

That has been the unfulfilled goal of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. That was the elusive dream, too, of every president—from Ferdinand Marcos to Joseph Estrada.

Will Noynoy succeed in achieving an economic miracle that has escaped the present and past administrations? Can he duplicate the success of South Korea’s full industrialization?

In the early 1970’s, South Korea and the Philippines were the chief competitors for labor contracts and overseas jobs in the Middle East, mainly in labor-short Saudi Arabia.

A few years later, Korea suddenly achieved full industrialization that all its workers in the Middle East had to be recalled to man its humming factories and bustling business establishments. This left the field to Filipinos, Indians and Bangladeshis.

South Korea has since become a labor-importing country, employing today not only Filipino workers but also Indonesians and other nationalities.

The Philippines has often been regarded as the economic basket case of Asia because of its dismal failure to rid its government of corruption. It is said that 30 percent of its national budget is lost each year to graft.

Aquino had pledged during the last campaign that if elected, he would set up a clean and honest government. “I will not steal,” he declared, and warned those who will join him in his new government to toe that line.

He also vowed to push for the investigation of all graft cases during the Arroyo administration. If he succeeds in his no-corruption drive, he will be opening the way for the country to rise from the doldrums to gradual economic recovery.

Aquino cannot totally abandon the overseas employment program, which has been the country’s economic lifeline for several years now since its creation in 1974 by then Labor Secretary Blas F. Ople.

It had been intended only as a stop-gap measure when the unemployment rate was hitting a double-digit failure at the height of the oil crisis at the time, But it has become such an economic pillar that all administrations since Marcos have continued to fully support it.

The program has given jobs to over eight million overseas Filipino workers, or nearly 10 percent of our entire population today. These OFWs have remitted an average of $16 billion yearly, with the figure expected to hit a record $18 billion this year.

On many occasions in the past, these remittances had shored up the economy, especially during a global economic crisis.

Aquino plans to reassess the performance of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the administrative infrastructures created by Ople to run the overseas employment program, with a view to generating more job opportunities.

He also intends to merge the two agencies into one bureau. But this could blur the lines that divide them; the POEA is the regulation arm of overseas employment, and OWWA, its welfare arm.

Aquino’s other plans are to merge the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education.

He also proposes to streamline the educational system to make our workers more employable by equipping them with greater knowledge and better skills. He believes that education reform and job generation go hand-in-hand, and calls for a shift from the existing 10-year basic education program to 12 years.

He explained that the reform is aimed at producing highly educated workers “to reduce the rate of those who subsist on the minimum wage just because they were not able to acquire the skills needed to land them in better-paid job opportunities.”

“The Department of Labor and Employment’s role is to provide forecasts on the career trend here and abroad so as to avoid acting on education plans that serve the needs of yesterday,” he stressed.

Aquino appeared focused on his plan to kick off an education-related revamp, which envisions a massive classroom construction program that will entail a budget of from P20 billion to P40 billion. He said the amount “is a mere pittance compared to the P280 billion that is lost yearly to corruption.”

The presumed incoming president faces more pressing problems affecting the labor sector that need immediate attention and solution. One is labor-only subcontracting.

In his Manila Times column on Tuesday, former Senator Ernesto Herrera, a very knowledgeable labor leader and general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said labor-only subcontracting “is supposed to be illegal and yet so many firms are defiantly resorting to it.”

Some 10 thousand workers in the hotel industry are treated as temporary workers no matter how many years they have been employed, but they are deprived from graduating into permanent status because they are laid off every after five months of employment.

Their employers are spared from paying their supposed contributions to the SSS, PhilHealth and PagIbig, while the workers are deprived of benefits accorded to members of the three government agencies concerned.

Something has to be done to abolish labor-only subcontracting to accord the workers the fair treatment they deserve. –ALFREDO G. ROSARIO, Manila Times

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