Labor groups blame gov't for massive job losses during pandemic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 5) – The government is to blame for the millions of job losses in April, labor groups said Friday.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported an all-time high of 7.3 million jobless Filipinos, adding 5 million from January's unemployment tally as most parts of the country went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On top of that, 13 million Filipinos said they remained employed but were not at work as a result of movement restrictions. Transportation has been barred and most establishments – except "essential" services like groceries, banks, and food production – were not allowed to operate during the strict lockdown period.

The Association of Labor Unions–Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said that "inept" state policies made it harder for employees to make a living during the lockdown.

The group denounced the government's decision to let companies reduce wages and employee benefits, as well as suspend labor litigations that guard against abusive employers. The sustained collection of rent for homes and commercial space also forced firms to lay off workers, they added.

"Employers already possessed prerogative to resort to flexible work arrangements such as shortened work hours, rotation, etc. to avoid shutdown. Bawas na nga ang working hours, bababwasan pa ang sweldo at benefits? [Working hours have been reduced, why did they also let salaries and benefits be slashed?]," ALU Spokesperson Alan Tanjusay said in a statement.

Strict stay-at-home rules in place forced most business operations to shut down. Those who can work from home were allowed to, but casual workers were forced to a "no work, no pay" scheme since mid-March.

ALU-TUCP also hit the Department of Transportation for "ineptitude," saying that inadequate public transportation has caused lost job opportunities and wage deductions, adding stress to workers. Public transport has been shut down when Metro Manila and other areas were put on lockdowns, only resuming at limited capacity this June.

Separately, the Kilusang Mayo Uno slammed the "militarized" response to the pandemic, which they said is captured by Malacañang's fixation to pass a new Anti-Terrorism Act meant to quell calls for better public policies and services.

"The regime, much like its handling of the COVID-19 response, uses the same tactic of militarism to respond to the unemployment crisis. It shows no urgency to stop the spread of the disease by conducting mass testing and no urgency to provide relief and create jobs for the people," KMU chairperson Elmer Labog said.

Labog said authorities should focus on providing additional financial aid and wage subsidies for small firms, as well as the creation of jobs in crucial industries like medical supplies and agriculture. The Department of Finance has rolled out a ₱51-billion fund which seeks to provide wages for small business employees during the lockdown period.

For its part, the Labor Department said the job losses were as expected, even surpassing layoffs during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis. Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said they were foreseeing at least 5 million to 10 million Filipinos unemployed this year, compounded by the impact of returning overseas Filipino workers who were also displaced from better-paying jobs abroad.

"As the economy opens gradually, we are hopeful that the labor market will also recover," Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.

Tutay also told CNN Philippines' Balitaan that the government is coordinating with companies looking to hire more workers. So far, an electronics firm in Laguna and a business process outsourcing firm needing call center agents and nurses have reached out to the agency as they hope to hire thousands of personnel.

The Department of Finance earlier proposed to hire displaced employees as contact tracers who will help track down probable COVID-19 patients. However, the Department of Finance said these personnel must have certain skills in order to fulfill the task at hand.

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