By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — The year 2009 began, ended and paved the way to 2010 with the festering problem of joblessness for millions of Filipinos. The global financial crisis only revealed the stark reality of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s inherently flawed job-generation strategies. The Arroyo regime admitted that it fell short of its target to generate 3.5 million jobs from 2004 to 2008. In 2009, they cheered at the data that more new jobs— including low-quality, non-wage earning jobs such as unpaid family work, own-account, and part-time work— were generated than lost as of October, but they admitted that “the additional jobs generated were lower than the number of people that have just entered the labor force.”
Thousands of jobs, especially in the export industry, were “massacred” in 2009, as the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) described it. The jobless rate rose to 7.1 percent in October from 6.8 percent in the same period last year.
Not only did Arroyo’s job-generation strategies fail to create enough jobs to catch up with the yearly increase in the country’s labor force. There are more than half a million Filipinos added to the unemployed in 2009 compared to 2001, when Arroyo first became president. Her economic policies have further opened up the country’s resources, including its human resources, to exploitation by multinational companies with negligible gain for Filipinos. Worse, it obstructed the development of the country’s agriculture and industries, the main creators of productive jobs in a developing economy.
There are practically 10 million unemployed in the country, as the 7.41 “underemployed” are more likely grappling with the same problems as the 2.71 million unemployed. Since 2005, the Arroyo regime has loosened the definition of the employed to persons who have worked even for only one hour during the past week or persons who may not have worked at all during the week prior to the survey but may actually have jobs or businesses they are temporarily not attending to. The official unemployed also does not yet include the 8.5 million overseas Filipino workers who risk abuse abroad and suffer from separation from their families because of the lack in decent, gainful employment in the country. (Read Bulatlat’s yearend report on labor migration.)
The jobs the Arroyo regime created were largely low quality, low-paying jobs, if it could be called as such. Almost half (or 16.5 million) are “self-employed” as vendors, drivers and home-based workers on outsourced jobs. Others are “unpaid family workers.” Their employment did not pay the minimum wage; in fact, some never get paid at all.
Jeepney drivers in Metro Manila, for instance, barely earn P300 ($6.48 at the current exchange rate of $1=P46.24) after 12 hours of work or longer, when the minimum wage is pegged at P362 ($7.82)in Metro Manila for an eight–hour work. They are lucky if they can drive more than three days a week, and they often do not have social-security benefits and health insurance. Some employed or “stay-in” vendors in Manila, meanwhile, earn little more than a hundred pesos ($2.16) for 11 hours or more of work. Both the vendors and the drivers also have to contend with government authorities such as the police, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Land Transportation Office and local government units who “milk” them of their earnings.
Most home-based workers of outsourced jobs are often paid per piece or per job contract, but often at levels lower than the prescribed minimum wage. A law enacted under Arroyo allows registered small to medium “barangay-based” businesses to skirt paying its workers the minimum wage.
As about half of the jobs “created” by the Arroyo regime paid less than the already insufficient minimum wages, it cannot lift the workers’ or the so-called employed persons’ families out of poverty.
“With low-quality, temporary jobs, Filipinos were caught flat-footed when the typhoons struck, losing their sole source of income together with their homes. Because they were in low-paying jobs, they did not have much savings either,” said Joselito Ustarez, vice-president of KMU. The aftermath of Ondoy and Pepeng added 300,000 Filipinos to those who experienced hunger.
Meanwhile, the other half of the recorded employed, the wage and salary workers, are only slightly better off.
Only around 227,000 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the Philippines, a mere 0.6 percent of the total labor force of 38.9 million. This suggests that for most workers, their wage rates are largely at the mercy of their employers’ good heart and declared income.
“And even with this very limited bargaining of workers, most companies still turned down proposals for wage hike in CBAs, using the crisis as a worn-out excuse,” said Bong Labog, president of KMU. Data from the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) showed that current wage levels are exactly the same as last year. The last minimum wage hike, a measly P20 ($0.43) increase, was implemented in the National Capital Region a year and a half ago, in May 2008.
The wage and salaried workers were the worst hit by the “massacre of regular jobs” in 2009.
After Intel’s layoff of thousands of its employees in the Philippines in January 2009, many more firms in the country followed suit. Before the second half of the year, for instance, tricycle drivers plying the routes to and from economic enclaves in Southern Tagalog had been complaining of decreased passengers. This, even as some workers who were laid off, “rotated,” forced to take a leave, or work under a “compressed work week” scheme, were starting to work as drivers.
The Arroyo government’s labor department has been particularly prolific in issuing orders and advisories that have enabled many large employers to hire and fire workers more easily. That is, to implement “labor flexibilization” for higher profits.
Total or near layoffs happened in 2009 with the Arroyo government’s approval or encouragement. Earlier, her labor department had issued an advisory allowing “compressed work week,” where employers can shorten the workweek but lengthen the working hours beyond the legally mandated eight working hours per day, without overtime pay. It violated the country’s eight-hour work law to the detriment of the working people.