Is the unemployment problem a lesser priority than face shields and the vaccine? Clearly it is not an agenda for the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) that was more focused on rolling out health and quarantine policies. Today, however, after five months of lousy pandemic response, the labor movement deems it as urgent if not equally important to have a full government response to the escalating unemployment problem.
By full government response we mean giving full attention and formulating plans of action to stop the unemployment bloodbath. And for plans of action we seek for an elaborate employment program, which include a massive public employment programs aimed not only at saving a dying economy but also at providing guaranteed jobs and income to millions of Filipinos who are sinking deeper into poverty.
Consider this demand as a mayday call similar with what the medical frontliners have demanded of government two weeks back. Adult joblessness has hit 45.5% in the second quarter, according to the recent survey by the Social Weather Station. This is certainly more depressing than 17.7% unemployment rate reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority last April.
Obviously, staying at home without work can be as deadly as being infected by the virus. And worse when both hit the workers, their families, and communities at the same time.
We further believe that a dying economy cannot be revived without putting workers back to work. The government as well as capital should now accept the reality that the ‘whole of nation approach’ must have the frontliner and backliner workers as main element of the pandemic response. We need to preserve jobs. We need to generate new employment.
In 2014, then President Benigno Aquino III called for a rare full cabinet meeting to tackle a single issue of unemployment. That was after the SWS released its survey showing the unemployment rate rising to 27.5% in 2013 despite the growth of 7.2 percent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, that meeting resulted to nothing as economic managers insisted that the unemployment problem at that time was mainly due to bad weather (Yolanda).
Today, the unemployment problem is far historic, widespread, and deep-seated. It therefore requires not just a full cabinet meeting for show, but a massive public employment backed by hundreds of billions of stimulus fund. A measly P162-B Bayanihan 2 appropriation for everything cannot certainly address the unemployment problem of this magnitude.
The Labor Agenda of Nagkaisa! contains some propositions to address this concern. We thus remind Sec. Silvestre Bello of the Department of Labor and Employment that the NTIPC’s TWG on employment is yet to be formed and called to a meeting to hammer out plans and recommendations from both the employers, labor and government.
Otherwise, without an inclusive process to address this problem head on, the future of the economy and the world of work will all be at the mercy of the militarized IATF. Or with the finance department and NEDA which still harbor to an illusion that a V-shaped recovery is still possible within the year.