Philippine govt kicks off jobs recovery strategy

A Filipino road construction crew on the northern island of Luzon. Photo: Twitter. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

MANILA, May 2, 2021, The Manila Times. government kicked off its employment recovery strategy on Labor Day that includes a proposed P24-billion wage subsidy for about 1 million private sector workers affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, The Manila Times reported.

The National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS) 2021-2022 involves an eight-point agenda that will improve “employability and productivity of workers while providing support to existing and emerging businesses,” its chairman, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, said during an online jobs summit on Saturday.

Lopez said the NERS has the support of the private sector, multilateral institutions and international organizations.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign on Friday an executive order institutionalizing the NERS task force.

In his Labor Day message, Duterte honored the country’s essential workers for “their tireless sacrifices in the face of an unprecedented health crisis,” assuring them of “an improved work environment where security of tenure, statutory labor standards, and their rights are upheld, protected and cherished.”

He thanked Filipino workers, particularly essential frontliners, for their commitment to keeping the country afloat amid the pandemic.

“Today, we find new meaning in our annual commemoration of Labor Day. This year, we honor our Filipino workers who — fueled not just by the desire to support their families and advance their careers — have tirelessly toiled these past several months to ensure that our society will continue to function in the face of an unprecedented health crisis that crippled industries across the world,” the President said.

Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo called for “concrete action” on the long-time demands of the workers as she renewed her support for their rights and recognized their hard work in the face of the crisis.

She reiterated calls to end the long hounding issues of contractual labor in the Philippines and abuse of domestic and migrant workers, among others.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco assured that the House of Representatives would push for policies that would guarantee the health and safety of workers, which include “[expanding] their health and life insurance, [providing] them [with] protective equipment [and] access to vaccines, and [ensuring] their allowance, sick leavea nd hazard pay.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana committed to ensure “a safe and secure work environment” for the workers with the help of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and civilian offices, claiming that they were partners in championing workers’ rights and in promoting their welfare.

Wage subsidy

Lopez said the P24-billion wage subsidy was “one of the most notable” in the NERS agenda as it seeks to provide “a subsidy equivalent to P8,000 per month for a maximum of three months to affected workers through the establishment of a payroll system.”

The NERS also supports the passage of priority legislations and policies that strengthen economic and employment recovery and utilize existing retooling and upskilling programs to address shifts in the labor market.

It also seeks to fully implement youth employability programs, which has a budget of P1.75 billion and seen to benefit 85,159 beneficiaries.

The NERS will also extend assistance to establishments, through low-interest loans, deferment of applicable fees and upgrading of processes and provide social protection to vulnerable groups to better deliver social protection, capacity building or livelihood for the working poor, vulnerable, and marginalized workers.

“Lastly, the government will continue to implement and monitor programs with high impact on employment,” Lopez added.

The agenda includes the Build, Build, Build program of the government, which aims to generate 220,000 jobs.

Local and international support

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank and International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed support for the NERS.

“ADB strongly supports this very important job summit with the recommendations formulated through a whole of society approach. We commit to working with the government and stakeholders in labor and industry to operationalize, many of these recommendations through our upcoming programs,” ADB Country Director for the Philippines Kelly Bird said.

Ndiame Diop, World Bank country director for the Philippines, said the World Bank will continue to support infrastructure development in the country to help the government generate jobs.

Khalid Hassan, director of the ILO country office for the Philippines, highlighted that the NERS agenda is anchored on the ILO’s four areas of policy action: stimulate the economy and employment; support enterprises, jobs and income; protect workers in the workplace; and rely on social dialogue to find solutions.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Benedicto Yujuico affirmed the private sector’s strong “commitment and constant cooperation to realize the outcomes espoused in the National Employment Recovery Strategy to restart economic activities by revitalizing domestic demand and business activities.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has crippled the Philippine economy, leading to record-level unemployment, with 4.2 million Filipinos jobless as of February 2021.

‘Symbolic’ vaccination

To mark Labor Day, 5,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and daily wage earners were vaccinated “in recognition of the sacrifices and heroism of Filipino workers and their important role in lifting and sustaining the country’s economy from the adverse effect of the pandemic,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said.

Bello said of the 5,000 who were inoculated, 3,000 were OFWs and 2,000 were minimum wage earners, both belonging to the Priority Group A4 or frontline personnel in the essential sector.

According to Bello, the names of the workers came from the list submitted by labor groups and organizations of OFWs.

The 5,000 doses of vaccines were provided by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease on the request of the Labor department.

The government has started vaccination of people who belong to the priority group A1 (health workers), A2 (senior citizens) and A3 (with comorbidities) as provided for under the National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan.

Nurses’ lament

The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) slammed the government for its alleged failure to improve working conditions a year after battling Covid-19.

“These risks have been the worst and almost unprecedented on top of the decade old nursing situation of being underpaid and overworked that push hundred thousands of health workers to migrate for better pay and opportunities,” the FNU said.

Its members expressed frustration after Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd disclosed in a dialogue with health workers on Friday that their promised benefits, such as special risk allowance, active hazard duty pay and performance based bonus as well as the demotion of senior government nurses remained up in the air because “his hands were tied.”

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