The global recession has gravely hit workers’ and peoples’ jobs and livelihood. Since the implosion of the global financial and economic crisis in the United States last year and the resulting fallout of big banks in the foremost capitalist countries, unprecedented retrenchments and shop closures have began to wreak havoc on job markets all over the world. The worsening crisis has resulted in a global slump in exports, investments, production, employment and consumption, so much so that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted the world economy is likely to plummet to “below zero” in the coming years. The International Labor Organization (ILO) forecasts that about 50 million people will be added to the ranks of the unemployed this year because of the crisis, upping the total of global joblessness to 200 million workers.
Unprecedented jobs crisis
Last year, the Philippine government was reluctant to admit that the country will likely be hit by the crisis. But the first quarter of the year showed the economy reeling from its initial blows with massive retrenchments buffeting different regions and economic sectors. In Central Luzon, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) reported that 10,391 were displaced in the last two months up to March 2 because of the crisis. The labor department also said that more than 40,000 workers have lost their jobs in the country since the onset of the global financial crisis in October last year – more than half of which came from the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) region. Most of the displaced were workers export industries such as garments, semiconductors, electronics, handicrafts and furniture.
The government estimated that more than 250,000 Filipino workers stand to lose their jobs in the first half of the year. In the frontline are more than a million workers in companies with foreign equity in special economic zones (SEZ) in the country. Workers in the garments (120,000), electronics (111,000), automotive (74,700) and the (2,000) industries are the most vulnerable. Included also are thousands of workers in mining, agriculture such as in plantations of coconut, banana, pineapple and other agri-export products.
Also, an estimated 100,000 overseas-based Filipino workers may face repatriation because of increasing joblessness worldwide. About 590,000 OFW, on the other hand, are vulnerable to layoffs. Included are 129,000 OFW in the US with only temporary visas; 130,000 seafarers in the cruise ships; 268,000 factory workers in South Korea, Taiwan and Macau; and 48,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau.
More or less 900,000 new graduates and entrants to the labor force will join the displaced workers in the hunt for jobs this year. This will add up to the 10.7 million unemployed and underemployed workers in 2008. In general, an unprecedented jobs crisis in the history of the country will be felt next month despite the government’s effort to manipulate official jobs data (such as with the redefinition of unemployment in 2005). Besides retrenchments, workers are affected by costcutting schemes such as compressed work-week, reduced work hours and forced leaves. All these mean a much-reduced take-home pay for workers.
For every worker who loses his job, a family is affected. With the spiraling of unemployment in the country comes the increasing incidence of poverty and hunger. According to the most recent survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in 2008, one out of four Filipino families experience hunger – the highest since the inception of SWS survey on hunger.
Roots of the crisis
The Philippines and all other underdeveloped country are especially vulnerable under the current global crisis because foreign monopoly capital dominates industry as well as trade and investment. The production and labor force in the country serve not the needs of the local economy, but rather, the whims and caprices of the overseas market aprticulalry that of the US. This is the reason why a fall in consumption in the US and other major capitalist countries also means a slump in the production and export from our country. This also explains why semi-manufacturing and re-export industries such as the electronics and garments, as well as extractive industries that are geared for export are usually hit the hardest in the periodic crises of capitalism.
But the jobs crisis in the country is not a new phenomenon engendered only by the US financial crisis. In the 1950s, more or less half of those in the working age population were unemployed, looking for additional work or were not included in the labor force by government statistics. Less than half of those with work were salaried workers. Majority were farmers or agricultural workers who could not find gainful work and who can only find means of income in the informal economy as vendors, drivers, construction workers, helpers and other odd jobs. This ever-growing labor surplus explains why about 10% of the population in the country are regularly forced to find work abroad.
The situation worsened during the 1990s as neoliberal globalization kicked in. Our economy was opened up to control by foreign capital, the agricultural sector was further reoriented towards exportation, while production of low-value added reexports in industry was pushed to the hilt. Millions of farmers were evicted from their lands and livelihood, while workers were thrown at the mercy of different schemes under labor flexibilization.
In brief, the problem of lack of decent jobs and livelihood for millions of Filipinos is chronic for want of genuine development of the economy. There is no genuine national industrialization and agrarian reform in place that will ensure decent livelihoods for the country’s workforce, and which will enable them reap the fruits of their own labor.
No bailout for labor
A much-publicized response by the government to the crisis is its so-called Resiliency Plan. Can this “resiliency plan” really mitigate the impact of the crisis on workers and other marginalized sectors in the country? The sectors themselves are skeptical about its effectiveness in providing immediate and sustainable relief for its intended targets.
Firstly, there is nothing really new about the government’s Resiliency Plan. What it actually did was to repackage previous fiscal programs to make the government look proactive in the face of the economic meltdown. The budgetary allocation for this “economic stimulus plan” is too small a percentage of the total GDP in comparison to the budget of previous fiscal years. As such, it cannot strictly be considered an emergency budget, and certainly not one capable of absorbing the shock of a crisis of this magnitude.
Secondly, the government seems to perceive the jobs crisis as merely a temporary one and triggered moreover by factors external to the local economy. Consequently, it lacks the wisdom and the political will to enact crucial programs that will address the roots of the problem. Instead, it is hell-bent in pushing charter change to remove provisions in the Constitution which formally safeguards our patrimony against full foreign ownership of lands, natural resources and strategic industries. The government is also pushing for House Bill 5241 aiming to increase government incentives for foreign capitalists and for the export industry. Historically, this has only furthered impoverishment of the people and tightened foreign control of the Philippine economy.
Thirdly, the government’s prefered solution will actually shift the burden of the crisis on labor while cushioning capital from its impact. This is a particularly irksome point among workers, since capital’s reckless compulsion to make quick profits from the volatile financial markets brought on the downturn in the first place. Despite this generally-recognized blameworthiness, the government is still encouraging capitalists to impose cost-cutting measures on their employees such as forced leaves, overtime without pay, broken work time, shift reduction, rotation, compressed work week, voluntary retirement and so on. Furthermore, it issued the Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements through its Labor Department (DOLE Advisory No. 2 series of 2009) and in the wake of the financial crisis, essentially legalizing violations of workers’ rights won through long years of tenurial advocacy. All these government responses bolster the suspicion long voiced out by labor that while they are asked to sacrifice in the face of the crisis, capitalist profits on the whole are being safeguarded at all cost.
And lastly, the package of relief measures from the government will not resolve the problem of unemployment but will only be used to leverage the election in 2010. This package contains such palliative schemes as the creation of temporary jobs through construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure; the “Tindahan, gulayan at bigasan ni Gloria” (a mobile store selling vegetables and rice at subsidized prices); and doleouts of spending-money to poor families. Like most budgetary insertions earmarked for vague and questionable expense items, the P330 billion budget for the “resiliency plan” , will most likely be used in an unsavory manner by those who hold the country’s purse strings – this time for ensuring results favorable to the incumbent administration.
The utter irrationality of the government’s contingency plans for the crisis extends to its recommendation to use workers’ social security funds (SSS, GSIS and PhilHealth) in bailing out troubled companies. Such hard-earned funds are sorely needed by the workers themselves, and would be put to better use in programs designed to bailout labor. From the foregoing, it then becomes apparent that not only will workers be deprived of a sorely-needed bailout plan, but that they will even be made to bear the brunt of the crisis both by government and private employers.
The lack of an objective appreciation of the magnitude of the crisis and its catastrophic potential makes the government lackadaisical in drawing up contingency programs for those that will be hit hardest among its constituents– the workers and other toilers of society. This seeming indifference sends the unmistakeable message to labor that traditional mechanisms for social justice have failed, and that they must now rely on their own political capacity to force the issue on bailouts in and out of the workplace.
Government certainly will not find this to its liking, and would react in a more or less traditional manner: political repression. But as the experience of Argentina and France shows, the “social contract” as envisaged by John Locke early in capitalism’s birthing is not an inviolable one. With the state increasingly exposing its partiality to the owners of capital and not to its makers, labor has the all the right to rip apart this contract and declare its necessity to survive as the primordial economic and political interest of the nation. #