Mayday for labor

Mayday for labor

Labor Day is marked today amid an unprecedented calamity. The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has spawned a crisis in unemployment and the loss of livelihood for millions across the country. Job losses arising from COVID-19 are expected to be permanent for many as businesses are forced to downscale operations or even shut down for good. May Day in 2020 is mayday, SOS for the labor front.

Apart from the millions of workers who have been displaced by the pandemic in the country, at least 230,000 overseas Filipino workers have lost their jobs, according to government records. The number is expected to rise. The oil-exporting countries of the Middle East and North Africa, which host the largest OFW populations, are reeling from the collapse of the crude oil industry, as various degrees of lockdowns restrict travel and industrial activity across the planet.

With the global economy in shambles and the Philippine economy seen contracting this year, hard times are ahead on the labor front. With no COVID-19 vaccine or specific cure, the world is a long way from being out of the woods. Recovery is going to be tortuous for all.

Today, several areas in Luzon are cautiously reopening under general community quarantine protocols. Metro Manila and the provinces still under enhanced community quarantine are watching the reopening, with the impact on public health to be assessed regularly.

In this crisis, tripartite cooperation becomes more urgent, to ensure that businesses can recover and become viable so that jobs can be saved. Employers have provided assistance to their workers and have held off on downsizing during the quarantine, but not all businesses can withstand so much pressure. The economic slowdown and dampened demand will leave many employers with no choice but to cut jobs. Displaced workers need assistance in learning new skills as businesses migrate toward online operations and adopt work-from-home arrangements.

The government is providing assistance to the poor and other sectors displaced by the quarantines or lockdowns. State aid, however, is limited, and cannot replace sustainable employment. Even before this crisis is over, the government will have to work double-time to create the environment that will make the country an attractive place for doing business and creating jobs. Other countries will be doing the same and there will be even stiffer competition for investments. Reinvigorating business and generating employment can be achieved best with the government, business and labor working together.