• Labor agenda seeks to solve unemployment problem

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    Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd has come out with an initial eight- point labor and employment agenda to ensure “inclusive development, prosperity, and labor justice” for Filipino workers.

    Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd has come out with an initial eight- point labor and employment agenda to ensure “inclusive development, prosperity, and labor justice” for Filipino workers.

    NEXT to illegal drugs, the three-month old government of President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to address the long-standing problem of unemployment and end the illegal practice of labor contracting, among other problems in the labor sector.

    Based on the July 2016 Labor Force Survey report of the Philippine Statistics Authority, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 5.4 percent, equivalent to 2.335 million individuals, down from 6.5 percent a year earlier.

    The 5.4 percent unemployment rate was the lowest recorded in the last 22 years, or from 1984 to 2016, from the peak unemployment rate of 8.68 percent.

    The improving jobs picture however has yet to translate to quality jobs. The underemployment rate, pertaining to employed persons who want to have additional hours of work, an additional job, or a new job with longer working hours, was estimated at 17.3 percent, equivalent to 7.094 million persons.

    Underemployment was high among wage and salary workers (56.2%), particularly those who worked for private establishments (83.3% of wage and salary workers). Self-employed and unpaid family workers accounted for 40.7% of the underemployed.

    The secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Silvestre Bello 3rd, has come out with an initial eight-point labor and employment agenda to ensure “inclusive development, prosperity, and labor justice” for Filipino workers and their families, even as he pointed out that some aspects of the policy agenda were still a work in progress, while some would need specific and immediate action.

    “The Eight-Point Labor and Employment Agenda is the contribution of the Department to help achieve President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s overall vision for our workers and their families, as well as for employers. President Duterte has vowed to transform the bureaucracy into an honest, efficient, effective, transparent, and accessible institution that is subservient to the Filipino people,” he said.

    According to Bello, the platform and policy agenda is anchored on the promotion of employment and human resource development; ensuring workers’ protection and welfare; and promotion of a “sound, stable and dynamic industrial peace” as a shared responsibility of various stakeholders.

    Members os KASAMA staged a protest at Intramuros Manila near the Department of Labor to oppose contractualization. PHOTO BY RUSSELL PALMA

    Members os KASAMA staged a protest at Intramuros Manila near the Department of Labor to oppose
    contractualization. PHOTO BY RUSSELL PALMA

    Skills gap
    Next to transforming DOLE into an efficient, responsive, purposeful, and accountable institution, the problem of unemployment and underemployment tops the eight-point agenda.

    “We know the causes are inadequate employment opportunities, mismatches between skills and jobs, and limited access to labor market information,” the Cabinet official said.

    Bello pointed out that while the private sector is primarily responsible for generating employment, the DOLE is mandated to help increase the capacity of the economy to produce goods and services by helping provide an adequate and steady supply of skilled human resources.

    With almost half of the unemployed belonging to the youth sector, the DOLE has challenged young people to develop “life skills” to be able to jumpstart their careers, either in wage employment or entrepreneurship.

    Skills gap has been identified as the culprit for the high youth unemployment in the country. Forty-four percent of unemployed have reached or graduated from high school while 35.3 percent were college graduates.

    An earlier ADB household survey in Manila and Cebu showed that it took a college graduate one year to find his first job, and up to two years to find a regular job.

    The study also showed that the period was even longer for a high school undergraduate, who took up to three years to find his or her first job, and four years to find a regular wage job.

    Educational attainment, social status of the family, and job search behavior were significant factors influencing the length and quality of the school-to-work transition among young Filipino jobseekers.

    Job seekers need to improve their attitudes toward work and enhance their presentation and communication skills by undertaking skills training during the transition from school to work, the DOLE said.

    It encouraged young people to avail themselves of the opportunities offered by JobStart to jumpstart their careers. JobStart is funded by the Government of Canada through the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The DOLE, through the Bureau of Local Employment, executes the program, while the local government units and the Public Employment Service Offices (PESOs) serve as implementing agencies. Employers serve as partners.

    Director Dominique Tutay of the Bureau of Local Employment said a participant needs to be between 18-24 years old; at least a high school graduate; with no job experience or no more than one year of experience; and currently not in employment, not enrolled in school or in any training, and is actively seeking work.

    JobStart participants are provided with knowledge on conducting job searches; access to career guidance and employment coaching; access to relevant labor market information and PESO resources; referral to potential employers; “holistic employability through multi-faceted training”; up to six months of on-the-job training with an employer; trainee stipend during the technical training and at least 75 percent of the minimum wage while with the employer as a trainee; and a certificate from DOLE and ADB for completing of the program.

    Labor standards
    Third on the agenda of the DOLE is to ensure full respect for labor standards and the fundamental principles and rights at work.

    “The Department is mandated to protect and respect all rights at work as a precondition for promoting decent work. We expect employers to do the same, ideally in a voluntary manner,” said Bello.

    Bello however clarified that inspection would continue to be the department’s main tool, with the outcome being employers’ compliance with labor laws.

    Included in the outcome is the reduction of “endo,” or illegitimate contractualization, by 50 percent and its abolition by 2017.

    “DOLE is committed to strictly and equitably implement the law on security of tenure, and will use the full extent of its regulatory and enforcement power to stop or prevent practices that circumvent it, especially practices like labor-only contracting,” Bello said.

    OFWs
    The fourth item in the DOLE agenda is to continuously strengthen protection and security of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

    President Duterte wants an environment that will generate enough decent and adequately remunerated work for every Filipino, so that no one will have to seek overseas work as a matter of compulsion or necessity, Bello said.

    In recognition of OFWs’ contributions to the country’s economy, the governing board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), an adjunct agency of the DOLE, has exempted OFWs returning to the same employer and jobsite from the requirement of obtaining an overseas employment certificate (OEC).

    “The Governing Board Resolution addresses the need to simplify procedures and requirements for fast efficient processing of employment documents,” said Bello, adding that during peak seasons, such as Christmas holidays and school graduations, the volume of OFWs requesting for the OEC goes up to about 5,000 to 7,000 workers per day.

    Bello added that OFWs who have registered with the Balik-Manggagawa Online facility would also be exempted from paying the travel tax and terminal fees upon the presentation of a valid work visa, work permit, valid contract, or equivalent document to the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority. The POEA processing fee is P100.00, while the travel tax and terminal fees are P1,620.00 and P750.00, respectively.

    A One-Stop Shop Center was also established at the POEA and other regions of the country to provide the necessary services for OFWs.

    The government offices providing services in the One-Stop Shop Center for OFWs are the Department of Foreign Affairs, POEA, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Professional Regulation Commission, Home Development Mutual Fund, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Social Security System, Philippine Statistics Authority, Bureau of Immigration, National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Higher Education.

    Industrial peace
    The fifth item in the Labor and Employment Agenda, according Bello, is to bring more focus and accessibility to workers’ protection and welfare programs.

    “The conventional mechanisms are social security, health, employees’ compensation and housing. We should therefore focus on these areas by seeking to address the problems of access to programs, adequacy of benefits, source of funding, and sustainability of the social insurance systems. Moving beyond the short-term, we should be actively engaged in the policy processes involving emerging issues like unemployment insurance and the establishment of a social protection floor,” Bello added.

    The sixth item is to “achieve a sound, dynamic, and stable industrial peace with free and democratic participation of workers and employers in policy and decision-making processes affecting them,” said Bello.

    DOLE will ensure an active, functional, and mutually beneficial social partnership between workers and employers, develop means to enhance collective bargaining and other forms of labor-management participation within and outside enterprises, and reconstitute tripartite bodies and other mechanisms for tripartism and social dialogue, he said.

    The seventh item is to have a labor dispute resolution system that ensures just, simplified, and expeditious resolution of all labor disputes, said Bello.

    Bello said he had directed all labor dispute resolution and settlement agencies to submit their respective plans of action in reducing and eventually eliminating case backlogs.

    He also called for a review of the various rules of procedure for simplification and adoption of summary procedures for certain cases.

    The eighth item is to have responsive, enabling, and equitable labor policies, laws, and regulations, said Bello.

    Bello said the agenda should address perennial complaints of organized labor groups on poor wages, irregular jobs, risky and hazardous workplaces, rising cost of living and inadequate social protection benefits.

    The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) had identified the apparent breakdown of both the employers’ non-compliance with, and the government’s lax enforcement of, general labor and the occupational safety and health standards as one major problem.

    It pointed to January 2016 DOLE statistics that showed that both government enforcement and the employers’ compliance efforts were inefficient.

    In the DOLE Labor Law Compliance System accomplishment report for 2015, General Labor Standard compliance in the country was only at 73.18 percent while Occupational Safety and Health Standards compliance stood at just 66.94 percent covering a total of 50,161 establishments out of the more than 900,000 registered establishments nationwide.

    The TUCP president, lawyer Raymund Mendoza, said the tragic Kentex factory fire that burned to death 74 workers in May last year was a living testimony of sloppy enforcement and blatant disregard of labor standards.

    According to Mendoza, the collapse of government enforcement of basic labor standards created opportunities for a wide-scale practice of contractual work schemes, whereby workers are hired for only five months and are re-hired based on the demand of market competition.

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