Opinion

Bleak Labor Day

Bleak Labor Day

With the economy deep in its worst-ever post-war recession, nearly all sectors have been hit hard by the COVID pandemic. For employers and workers alike, 2020 has been a bleak year. Today, with more infectious and deadlier COVID variants on the rampage and vaccination in fits and starts, more bleak times are ahead as the nation marks Labor Day.

The government counts some 4.2 million jobs lost since the start of the pandemic. This does not include the livelihoods lost in the informal sector. Despite the variant-fueled surge still leading to thousands of new infections daily that are swamping healthcare facilities, the government has decided to allow more business activities to resume beginning today, to revive livelihoods and address growing hunger and poverty.

The activities include indoor dine-in at 10 to 20 percent capacity as well as personal care services at 30 percent capacity in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal or the NCR Plus. The personal care establishments are limited to beauty salons, nail spas and barbershops.

The government says the resumption of activities would bring back from 300,000 to 500,000 jobs in the NCR Plus and other areas under modified enhanced community quarantine. MECQ displaced an estimated 1.5 million workers in the NCR Plus, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

Because of the COVID surge resulting in the lockdowns as well as the slow vaccine rollout, economic analysts are one in saying that the Philippines will have the slowest pandemic recovery in the region. There is little good news to be presented to workers today, on their special day. As a token, 5,000 laborers will get their first dose of a COVID vaccine.

Except for a handful of sectors such as pharmaceuticals and virgin coconut oil producers, workers are hurting. Even those at the forefront of the battle against COVID – nurses and other healthcare professionals – are complaining about their work situation, starting with compensation that is not commensurate with their hazardous work.

The best way to address labor woes at this time is to improve the pandemic response, beginning with the procurement of COVID vaccines. With the slow vaccine rollout amid the variant surge, the government must ramp up capabilities for COVID testing, contact tracing, quarantine, isolation and treatment. Bring down the infections, speed up vaccination, and economic revival can finally start. That’s when the jobs can be created or brought back.