Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda Q&A on Covid-19 vs the Workforce: Navigating through Labor Issues in Health CrisisApril 15, 2021
Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda
Covid-19 vs the Workforce: Navigating through Labor Issues in Health Crisis
Ateneo Lex: Bona Fide
April 15, 2021
- What made you become a public servant?
The ills of society, whether it is the trafficking of women or children, or exploitation of our ecological environment, or domestic violence, or the pollution of the metropolis, or corruption in government, or seeming gaps in the bureaucracy, or the inefficiency of health services, all those and many more moved me to run for public office so that I could enact the laws that I believe can cure those problems.
For many years as a journalist, I have documented and directly witnessed the inequality, abuse, and misconduct in our society. These experiences became my inspiration to do more than just expose or tell stories. I believed that I could use my knowledge and the work ethic I developed in broadcast journalism in lawmaking as I heeded the call to be the voice of the poor and abused in the halls of Congress.
- What common labor law issues have you encountered during your term?
Although our country is recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the best-performing country in Asia in closing gender gaps, we still have to work hard towards strengthening women empowerment by focusing on our economic empowerment.
Despite the laws created for the welfare of women, our labor force participation rate had been considerably lower compared to that of men, with an average rate of 46.29%, while the average male labor force participation rate was at 73.12 percent covering Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data from 2012 to 2021.
We also have unpaid care and domestic work concentration among women that limits their full participation in the labor market.
This was one of the first laws I passed in my first term as Senator which was also when I came to know Joseph Bosito who was a child miner in Paracale, Camarines Norte. He would join his father in deep-pit mining in their town, using goggles and hose connected to a compressor, to source gold nuggets from a very deep but narrow pit filled with murky water. Joseph has long graduated from college after I supported him as one of my scholars.
With a drastic drop from 2.3 million working children in the country in 2007 to 1.3 million in 2017, it is still alarming to know that millions of children aged five (5) years old to 17 years old are still exposed to multiple forms of possible abuses while in the workplace, such as physical abuse, endangerment, sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, forced labor, internal displacement, among others.
It is lamentable that there are children who are forced into domestic work, doing household chores in their employer’s home instead of going to school and it is a sad fact that some children are forced to work to support their families and are deprived of their childhood and their right to education, just like Joseph Bosito then.
We already have laws in place to address the continuing problem of child labor. All that is needed now is for the government to bolster close coordination with concerned government and non-governmental institutions and with the local government units to finally eliminate child labor.
Low wages and poor working conditions
The Philippines’ average salary is among the lowest among 110 countries in the 2020 survey conducted by an international e-commerce platform, Picodi.
With the increasing price of goods in the market, the minimum daily wage rate of 500 to 537 pesos in NCR is not enough for an average Filipino family of 5.
Aside from the minimum wage earners, teachers and healthcare workers are among those who suffer from insufficient wages and poor working conditions due to limited access to resources to fully comply with their work responsibilities.
- Have you noticed any changes in these cases pre and during the pandemic?
Yes. The existing labor issues before the pandemic are now exacerbated and need to be addressed promptly.
On issues on gender parity, the United Nations Women reported that 6.6 million Filipino women are working in the informal sector with lower earning capacity, little to no access to labor protections, including sick leave or protection against dismissal, and, in many situations, livelihoods are dependent on public spaces and social interactions, which are now restricted due to COVID-19. Many Filipino women are employed in the service and retail industry, which are among the first sectors affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns and community quarantines, disrupting traditional employment modalities and workforce adjustment.
On child labor, due to restrictions of movement and the lack of income source for most of the families, there are reported cases on sexual exploitation and abuse. Children became more at risk from online sexual abuse, sometimes even perpetrated by their own parents and family members.
Whereas on salary and working conditions, our healthcare workers, teachers, and other frontliners suffer from the brunt of the pandemic. During the start of this health crisis, our frontliners have to use improvised protective equipment due to the shortage of PPE supplies. Our teachers have to shell out their own money to cover the expenses in buying materials to provide modules for their students due to the inadequate MOOE funds.
They continue to endure the dismal conditions of shortages in facilities, meager benefits, hardships and sacrifices for the well-being of the general public, while putting themselves at risk of getting infected and even endangering their families’ safety.
To address these issues and problems, Congress enacted the Bayanihan laws. Our government agencies have been working double-time to focus on performing active labor market interventions and creating self-employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to aid the public, aside from providing social amelioration to the affected members of our communities, as well as providing hazard pay and other support mechanisms for our frontliners and healthworkers.
- Why do you think it is important to speak on these issues?
It is not only important because these are current issues, but part of our sworn duty as public servants is to speak out in all instances where we encounter unfairness or injustice.
Work with compassion: this is my brand of service for the Filipino people. They voted for me to be of service to them.
As a public servant, I am representing the people to help them have not only better lives but to enable them, equip them to be part of community development and nation-building because for a country to be truly progressive, we need to address the inequality, the abuse, and the efficiency that continue to plague our society.
- Can you tell us about your advocacies and how you live out your advocacies in relation to your position?
Aside from promoting culture and arts and advancing climate action and environmental conservation, I also advocate for sustainable development, protection of women and children, promotion of workers’ right to decent work, and provision of better opportunities, especially in the vulnerable and marginalized sectors in society.
For the protection of women’s and children’s rights, I authored laws such as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act, the Anti-Child Labor Law, and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and its expanded version. I collaborated with women and children organizations like the UN Women Philippines to ensure that the distress calls of women and children are heard and addressed, especially during the pandemic.
During my stint in the Senate as Chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I sponsored various resolutions concurring in the ratification of twelve (12) international agreements, including International Labor Organization Convention 189 (Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers) and the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, which both aim to provide better protection to Filipino workers. In 2017, I also sponsored the resolution concurring in the ratification of ILO Convention No. 151, which seeks to protect the right of civil servants to organize and determine conditions of employment in public service.
To promote the resilience of rural livelihoods and support small enterprises, I authored the Barangay Skills Training and Livelihood Act, the Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act, and the Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Act, among others.
I supported programs that may be availed of by qualified beneficiaries, such as the DOLE TUPAD, DSWD AICS, DOLE Kabuhayan, DSWD SLP, DOH MAIP, among others. I micromanage the requests of the people for availment and make sure that those who are qualified and deserving are assisted for faster approval and disbursements of benefits and assistance.
I pushed for the preservation of our cultural heritage by providing support to our weavers, craft makers, and IP communities, giving them the resources that they need to cultivate the Filipino culture and traditions.
As an environmental champion, I authored and sponsored landmark laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, the Climate Change Act, the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, the People’s Survival Fund Act, the E-NIPAS law, among others.
I encourage the public to live an environment-friendly lifestyle. When the pandemic started, I started a webinar titled, Stories for a Better Normal, to promote health, environmental consciousness, and climate-adaptive practices, to change the mindset of individuals, families, and communities by demonstrating ways in which a ‘better normal’ can be realized within our communities. If we think we will ever go back to the way things were, we are in for a disappointment. But if we keep aiming for a better normal, where we try to be closer to our food sources, plant what we can, share what we can, sell the rest, eat plant-based food, find uses for all materials and recycle, reuse and even upcycle them, we would emerge from this pandemic even healthier and happier, and our environment greener and safer.
Seeing that my advocacies are at work gives me better motivation and strength to continue working towards my vision of a resilient Filipino society.
- How do you perceive our laborers? Why do you think they should be given protection especially during this pandemic?
Our workers and our laborers are the backbone of our economy and when they are prevented from doing their jobs for any reason, such as what happened last year when ECQ was first imposed in the country, the economy suffered, industries and businesses suffered. If we do not take care of our workers, pandemic recovery will become even more difficult.
This is why in the bill that I sponsored in the House of Representatives, which is House Bill 6468 or the Better Normal Bill, I made sure that there are provisions for the protection of our workers in the workplaces. Aside from institutionalizing the current health and safety protocols, we also provided that businesses and industries shall implement alternative work arrangements; that expenditures to be incurred in compliance with the health and safety protocols shall be shouldered by the management and not the employees; as well as other support mechanisms by way of safer transportation, testing, contact-tracing, among others.
- At the rate of this pandemic, it could be deduced that COVID-19 and unemployment have a direct relationship with each other. What steps do you think are needed to address such issues, especially with the underlying issues (e.g. poverty, lack of government support, transportation problems, etc.) that come with them?
Providing alternative sources of income will strongly complement the provision of jobs and help address the lingering unemployment problems in the country brought by the pandemic.
Let us strengthen the promotion and implementation of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Law (RA 9501) and the Barangay Skills Training and Livelihood Law (RA 9509). We have to bolster our efforts in strengthening employment creation, facilitation, and enhancement. MSME programs are viable platforms for generating employment opportunities and better incomes to spur economic growth, particularly at the grassroots level. On the other hand, the Barangay Skills Training and Livelihood Law empowers micro-entrepreneurs through free skills training for those coming from the 4th, 5th and 6th class municipalities to expand their capacities to become more productive.
The promotion of green jobs and just transitions will also help our government sustain its socio-economic gains while promoting climate change adaptation efforts. For instance, renewable energy projects, management in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, environmental information technology can generate jobs and provide livelihood opportunities to impoverished communities while making good use of recyclable waste materials, which would also help solve our waste management problem
Lastly, the government must rethink how it formulates the national budget, hold off on large projects that will take many years, and ensure that the needs of the labor sector and others who were severely affected by the pandemic are met. In fact, we need to rethink the entire economy. Hence, I filed the PENCAS Bill which seeks to allow us to estimate the real value of what we stand to lose if we make decisions that impact nature adversely in the long term. That is natural capital, but it is the same for human capital, which is entirely responsible for manufactured capital. We place appropriate value in each of these, and we can create an economy that is resilient to crises.
- Is there anything that we, as citizens, can do to help the labor force that has been impacted throughout the pandemic?
Yes, definitely. Every peso counts. You can decide to spend your money buying goods online from other countries, or decide to give value to the artisans, local producers and even eat plant-based and healthy food raised by our local farmers and growers. We have to realize what the real costs of things are as the choices that we make now will definitely have an impact on the state of economy and environment the next generations will inherit from us.
- What now?
Now more than ever, we have to continuously empower our workforce. We need to address unemployment and other existing labor law issues that keep our workers from growing and maximizing their full potential. Our labor force is invaluable to our society’s economy and development as the country would not function without them.
As government officials, we have the moral and legal obligation to defend each and every Filipino’s rights to decent work with competitive salaries and benefits and good working conditions.
This pandemic made us realize our vulnerabilities. It tested our long-held notions of progress and development, and our capability to recover and rebuild the lives of our people.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, we have to improve and invest in our human capital. We have to improve the lives of all citizens and lift the poor and marginalized out of poverty in order for us to achieve an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient growth and recovery.
- Philippine Statistics Authority: Women and Men in the Philippines Factsheet
- Philippine Statistics Authority: Statistics on Working Children
- PH’s P15,200 average salary among lowest in 110 countries – survey
- Gender Snapshot: COVID-19 in the Philippines