Whoever recommended the theme for 2013 celebration of Labor Day may have seen enough of the hardship that Filipino workers here and abroad are going through. This year’s Labor Day theme is “Manggagawang Pilipino: Handa sa Hamon ng Makabagong Panahon.”
The economic slowdown that plagues the country is in reality a global phenomenon. In the US, the “American Dream” is becoming hazy for many migrant Filipinos especially in the health sector. Many have reverted to temporary or part time status because of new policies of the Obama administration. During the past few years, the Middle East crisis has also reduced the demand for our OFWs.
Iraq, Libya, Syria were formerly countries where many workers, especially from the ARMM found gainful employment. These workers had to come home or face the danger of being caught in the crossfire. Another spectacle worth looking into is the big number of “stranded” workers in Jeddah whom the Department of Foreign Affairs are finding difficult to repatriate. Many are undocumented workers who did not pass through official channels, while some are victims of illegal recruiters. It is not surprising to find that such a big number “bravely” left the country in unsound circumstances just to find work. Looking around, there are still illegal recruiters who are actively persuading girls from the different tribes of ARMM to work as domestic helpers in the Middle East.
With this situation, the government needed a bigger budget to defray the expenses of repatriating and feeding the stranded workers. An OFW from the Middle East who recently came home to visit commented that “this is where our contributions to the OWWA fund will certainly go. By the time we legitimate workers will need assistance, there will be no more funds left”. But he himself admits that he volunteers for an NGO who assists problematic OFWs, whatever their status. An NGO can respond faster to a request for assistance compared to the embassy that will have to go through diplomatic channels.
In the home front, both government and labor groups are taking the chance to get better concessions for workers during the Labor Day celebration. Prior to this, the Labor Secretary announced that a dialogue will take place which will discuss priority issues such as compliance with constitutional guarantees on security of tenure; self-organization and collective bargaining; tax exemptions for minimum wage earners and imposition of taxes on back wages, allowances and benefits. But the focus of the dialogue will be on the implementation of core labor standards to alleviate poverty. From the labor side, they will discuss the institutionalization of the Consultative Council on Overseas Filipino workers, provision of unemployment insurance, and assistance from CHED and TESDA particularly on the retraining of workers with knowledge and skills which are no longer in demand.
It is therefore a blow to the labor sector that the said dialogue did not result into what the labor leaders expected. According to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), “President Aquino failed to offer anything substantial to improve the condition of workers. He has rejected majority of the proposals of labor organizations, including tax exemption for minimum wage earners”. On the other hand, the President clarified that he did not refuse most of the proposals. “It’s just a question of agreeing on all of the details”. (The Philippine Star).
Last April, there were 530,000 college graduates who entered the labor force, according to the Partido Manggagawa. There will be 400,000 jobs prepared by DOLE for the Jobs Fair to held last May 1. With the number of workers from abroad who are returning to the country, the Jobs Fair will not be able to address the concern of all. It is therefore important to prepare workers for the challenge of the more difficult times ahead. Otherwise, the government will be faced with more problems in connection with the labor sector in the years to come.
Eva Kimpo-Tan is the editor-in-chief of The Mindanao Cross, the oldest Catholic weekly in the southern Philippines.