AS MANY countries in the world commemorated Labor Day on May 1st, a lawmaker urged the Philippine government to provide more employment programs and higher-paying jobs to encourage Filipinos to stay and work in the country.
According to Senator Sonny Angara, the government should come up with better job opportunities so that Filipinos will not be forced to look for lucrative work abroad, where many have fallen victim to rights abuses or to human traffickers.
“The cost of Filipinos working overseas is higher than we think. Yes, we can talk about their remittances that spur our economy, but do we really want to become the world’s employment agency? If we ask most of our countrymen, I think they would definitely still prefer to stay at home but with higher-paying jobs,” Angara, acting chairman of the committee on labor, employment and human resources development, said on Friday.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the victims of human trafficking totaled 1,135 in 2013, while the number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) facing death penalty cases, most of which are drug-related, has reached a total of 88 as of March this year.
Moreover, an average of 1,600 illegal recruitment cases were handled by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) from 2007 to 2011, while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) handled an average of more than 50,000 cases on-site annually from 2009 to 2013.
Based on the April 2014 Labor F orce Survey, 2.9 million Filipinos are unemployed while seven million are underemployed.
The survey further showed that 62 percent or around 1.8 million of the unemployed had a high school diploma, a post-secondary certificate or a bachelor’s degree.
“Ironically, even our graduates are hounded by joblessness. According to studies, it can take 18 months up to two years before new college graduates can land a job,” the senator said.
“Our labor force grows an addition of almost one million every year, and this number cannot be absorbed by available jobs here in the country, forcing Filipinos to seek better-paying jobs abroad to support their families even with the risk of facing abuse and exploitation,” said Angara, who recently filed a resolution calling for a review of existing labor laws and regulations.
While the lawmaker lauds the current administration for developing reintegration programs that would allow returning OFWs to use their earnings for enterprise development, what would really make “migration be a matter of choice and not a necessity,” according to him, is by providing higher-paying jobs in the country.
Angara stressed the need to expand and strengthen the network of the Public Employment Services Office (PESO) to address the persistent issue of unemployment in the country, especially in the rural areas.
“We are pushing for the expansion of the PESO to serve as job placement agencies in provinces and municipalities to help people find work amidst reports that it takes up to two years for new graduates to get work,” the senator said.
He is also pushing for the passage of the Apprenticeship Training Act to provide young Filipinos with skills and access to employment, noting that a majority of apprentices are hired by the companies where they have their apprenticeship.
“Aside from job-generating programs, one way of ensuring higher wages is by amending our outdated tax system that overburdens our middle-income workers and make it more progressive and equitable—one that promotes upward mobility and a just society,” said Angara, author of the recently enacted law raising the tax exemption cap on 13th month pay and other workers’ benefits.
With the current system, which has been unchanged since 1997, an upper middle-income earner who makes around P60,000 a month is already at the top tax bracket and is paying the same tax rate as the millionaires and billionaires in the Philippines.
The ways and means committee chairman stressed that tax brackets should be adjusted to keep up with inflation and to make them more sensitive to current salaries of Filipinos.