Antonio Tujan

No jobs, more ‘tambay’

Job generation in April 2018 from the same period the year was an unremarkable 625,000 new jobs. One of the symptoms of our dysfunctional society is the lack of jobs and low wages for the few lucky ones who have found work. This is very palpable in the mass of “tambay.” Everyday from morning until dusk, able-bodied men and even women with nothing to do loiter in street corners in cities and towns. For many, hunting jobs is a grind itself. But more of them become “tambay” after finding it unsuccessful landing jobs. They then fall into the statistical category of “discouraged” workers, those unceremoniously removed from the labor force along with the housewives and the migrant workers. An IBON report says: “The number of unemployed increased by 82,000 to 4.13 million with the unemployment rate at an unchanged 9.1 percent from the same period last year (estimated by IBON for greater comparability with historical trends). Labor force participation rates have not improved and are still at their lowest in decades.” As President Duterte prepares for his State of the Nation Address this Monday, he will have to expound on several controversial issues like the BBB (Build, Build, Build!), the country’s growing debt and AmBisyon 2040. But the basic economic issue remains that of pernicious poverty. There are no livelihood opportunities and no jobs – unemployment is the flipside of the issue behind the eyesore “tambay” and drug addicts. The new issue of IBON Birdtalk is very revealing. Last year should have been an eye-opener – the economy grew at a hyped 6.7 percent but it actually shed 663,000 jobs. Not only did the economy fail to create new jobs but there were actually hundreds of thousands less jobs to be had. This was the biggest contraction in employment in 20 years (since 1997). Job generation in April 2018 from the same period the year was an unremarkable 625,000 new jobs. This is just around the historical average since the 1980s and actually even less than average annual employment generation of over 800,000 since the 2000s. The pattern of employment creation also does not indicate an economy developing strong foundations. The most job creation was in construction (465,000 added) and in public administration (260,000) which together account for at least half of gross job creation. Some quarters claim a manufacturing resurgence, yet job creation in the sector was tepid with “…the 111,000 new jobs created coming in a distant third. …The share of the sector in total employment is still at a low 8.9 percent which is much below that in the 1960s and 1970s.” Livelihood generation and entrepreneurship development go hand in hand with improving wages for workers. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) called for a P750 increase in minimum wages for industrial workers – this should cascade down to service, informal workers and also agricultural workers, especially the farm workers and poor odd-job employees who are paid a lot less. Where does KMU base its call? “Inflation has increased the family living wage needed for meeting basic needs to P979 for a family of five and P1,175 for a family of six in the National Capital Region as of June 2018. The NCR nominal minimum wage is however still kept low at P512 which means wage gaps of P467 (48 percent shortfall) and P663 (56 percent), respectively. The wage gap will continue to widen as inflation erodes the unchanging mandated minimum wage. The Duterte administration only raised the NCR minimum wage once by a piddling P21 in October last year.” — IBON. Livelihood generation and jobs promotion along with wage increase are key issues which should be on top of this administration’s agenda. Raising workers’ income to approximate living costs has fundamental implications starting with access to the basic goods and services for a decent life. Increase in income changes the mindset of people, ensuring that quality living is assured as well as those of their families and communities. We can expect a lot of debates and opposition from the business sector as it will bear the recurring costs. But such costs go back to society and the health of the economy. That is the main social responsibility for business – start with workers not for charity but for social and professional improvement that ensures living incomes for the employees. For a start, maybe the big multinationals and conglomerates can rise to the challenge.

Pinas becoming world class

“The signs of this growth are palpable in the frenzy of construction of malls.” For a long time the Philippines was admired in the world after World War II, a country more likely to succeed amid the ashes of war. More than Taiwan or Korea which were touted as the tiger economies of the Far East. Then decades later we were overtaken by Malaysia and Thailand. A Thai newspaper even editorialized the Philippines’ predicament some 10 years ago, considering that Thais used to admire the Philippines in terms of economic growth and development. The Philippines has been hyped a few years ago by global investment houses as one of the world’s fast emerging economies. The Aquino administration capitalized on this considering that for a number of years economic growth has been steady. These rates rival China’s growth rates which have been dampening in the face of a weak global economy. Everyone should be pleased that the Philippine economy is now enjoying better growth. The signs of this growth are palpable in the frenzy of construction of malls, office buildings and residential condos. I have been traveling around the country and also around the world now as a public speaker, educator, writer and researcher, and also engaging with international organizations and intergovernmental associations like the United Nations on issues of development and human rights. Though in the recent years I have been principally engaged in global issues of people’s development as director of IBON International where we have also focused our involvement in specific countries like India and Kenya, I remain proudly a Filipino and involved in the concerns of our country. I am even more proud when people around the world express their admiration for the Filipino people and society – our strong social bonds, our hospitality and genuine care for others, countrymen and foreigners alike, creativity and resourcefulness, ethic of hard work, our gregariousness and more. On the other hand, most people I meet also express their profound sympathy for the Philippines as a challenged country, to say the least. We are the second highest in the world in terms of natural disasters. We can cite even the largest volcanic eruption this century (Mount Pinatubo) and the largest and strongest typhoon (Yolanda/Haiyan) that made landfall in recent history. We are only second to the US in number – but the US is a rich and large country Arguably, this would mean the Philippines could outrank the US and be considered the highest in terms of per capita and proportion to land mass. Our country more regularly catches the attention of international public opinion, not just because of our innumerable natural disasters, running political conflicts, civil war and poverty but more so our recent economic growth, and remarkable, nay admirable world-class achievements, including those by our prominent kababayan. Most everyone understands that we are a poor Third World country. The more than 10 million of overseas Filipino workers and immigrants whose presence alone is a constant reminder to the peoples in more than 200 countries of poverty in the Philippines. A polite description of our country is that it is challenged. But I think a more appropriate depiction of the Philippines is that it is a dysfunctional society in many ways. On one hand, we are proud of our educational system compared to many other developing countries which are far behind in ensuring capacity for people for development. But jobs and livelihood for the mass of high school and college graduates are scarce. There are few opportunities in agriculture for peasants because land is locked in landlord control. Individual farmers show the way for rural entrepreneurship but they lack government support and become victims of contract growers, especially the large plantations of commercial crops. Our entrepreneurs regularly catch global attention for their innovative inventions and products that are successfully promoted in their areas, but there is weak support for entrepreneurs from government and the banks. What should have been the strong economic base composed of micro-enterprises and SMEs remain weak. And the economy remains top-heavy as commerce and industry are under overweening control of big business and of multinationals. Imbalances in society are common but the Philippines suffers from more than an imbalance - a dysfunction in the social, economic and political fields. We need to set it aright if we want to end the deep issues of urban and rural poverty. Mr. Antonio Tujan Jr. is one of the founders of IBON Foundation and currently its international director, a researcher, editor, educator and writer. He has written and/or edited various articles and books on food sovereignty and globalization.
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