Louise Maureen Simeon – The Philippine Star
February 21, 2022 | 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should double it’s effort in boosting social protection programs, especially for informal workers, as the pandemic is slowly nearing its end, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for social protection among workers regardless of age, gender and sector, amid increased vulnerability to economic crises and shocks, the ILO said.
Even prior to the pandemic, social protection in the Philippines and neighboring economies were already weak, while support measures do not really cover a large share of workers.
ILO’s Social Protection Department director Shahra Ravazi said there is only a short window before people forget the importance of social protection, especially now that things are slowly going back to normal for many economies.
“It is a little bit sad that people only realize it when it’s necessary, when disaster or crisis strikes. I think it’s also important to emphasize that COVID-19 was a large-scale shock and a big crisis, but people have crises all the time,” Ravazi said.
“We need social protection not because we will have another COVID-19 or we have a climate-related disaster, but because we also have day-to-day crises,” he added.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) earlier said the Philippines and a majority of Asia-Pacific economies have insufficient resources being poured into people, and this is evident in the lack of social protection.
Data show the Philippines is investing a measly 2.6 percent of its gross domestic product to social protection, lower than the Asia Pacific average of 4.9 percent and way below the global average of 11 percent.
Unfortunately, workers in the informal sector are bearing the brunt of such lack of social protection as they are not covered by the country’s labor laws and regulations.
In fact, two out of five workers in the country are less likely to have formal work arrangements and access to social protection and are more at risk during a crisis.
The Philippines Alliance of Workers in the Informal Economy emphasized that the sector is a very vulnerable one especially for those who are earning low and are borrowing capital from loan sharks.
The group said only a small percentage of workers in the informal economy are contributing voluntarily in the Social Security System and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
Ravazi argued that having no regulation and paying no taxes for informal workers mean they do not have a cushion to fall back on during a crisis and they continue to live in a situation of high precarity.
During the pandemic, governments mobilized measures to help workers but ILO maintained that these are temporary and are already running out.
“At the same time, the economy has not picked up and the jobs are not there. People are still highly precarious and vulnerable,” Ravazi said.
Estimates from UNESCAP suggest that a basic social protection scheme costs two to six percent of GDP for a package of health care, and child, maternity and disability benefits.