With the assassination of a top Iranian general ordered by the president of the United States, the most powerful country in the world, 2020 ushered in the grave risk of an escalating conflict in the Middle East that could have dire economic consequences across the globe. While Iran obligingly responded to appease its citizens calling for blood by raining in dozens of missiles on two “abandoned” American bases in Iraq, interestingly, the United States seemed bent on de-escalating further tensions with President Trump’s comments that “Iran appears to be standing down” and the US Congress passing a resolution limiting the power of its president to further commit acts of war.
However, the “accidental downing” by Iran of a Ukrainian airline with Canadian and British citizens on board could further widen the conflict and the fragile stand down by both USA and Iran remains fluid. Given these, the mandatory evacuation of thousands of Filipino OFW (overseas Filipino workers) continues to be a necessary option.
As expected, a domestic militant labor union group dutifully marched on the streets to condemn the US action in Iran for ideological reasons. Philippine employers, however, are concerned on the impact on the large number of OFW repatriates as it will add to the almost 10 million unemployed and underemployed in the country.
The much-heralded job generating capacity by the government’s “Build, Build, Build” centerpiece program might be affected from the higher cost of construction materials arising from increases in the world price of oil due to the renewed Mideast tension. Additionally, with the unexpected return of a large number of OFW, the 75 percent historical employment absorptive capacity of enterprises for new graduates and the closure of some companies due to various reasons will put a collective heavy burden on our country’s employment situation.
Add to these factors the uncertainty that the US-China trade war brings and its destructive consequences on the global economy. With all these developments, it may be a good time for our policymakers to pause and reflect on the populist drift of their labor bills and join employers in protecting existing jobs, generate more employment and move the economy forward under a reign of industrial peace.
The year 2019 was generally peaceful with few labor strikes and we all look forward to the continuing dialogue between workers and employers to avoid unproductive work stoppage or slowdown.
Enlightened and matured labor leaders, employers with heart and socially responsible legislators must continue to jointly work together and weather the headwinds of 2020. The unfortunate labor strike at the Petron refinery in the first month of the year should be a wakeup call to all stakeholders for the need to exercise prudence in the settlement of compensation disputes in the workplace.
The current war between the water concessionaires and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte provides a dramatic and exciting Netflix episode that will hopefully and eventually end in a rational and mutually beneficial compact for all stakeholders. Our President has the unorthodox style and natural flair of John Rambo and Eliot Ness rolled into one in dealing with national issues in a tough guy fashion to get his message strongly across. And his governance style may cause a calculated aggregate confusion but it has unceasingly endeared him to the underprivileged, marginalized and a large sector of the general population. Rightly or wrongly, the concessionaires responded with respectful silence but feverishly studied their contracts in the context of history, corporate social responsibility and enterprise viability.
At the start of every new year, employers always have high hopes that things will be better despite the many challenges and lingering unresolved issues of the year just passed. Even the early breakout of a labor strike in the country’s largest oil refinery and the powerful eruption of Taal Volcano will not dampen our bullish outlook for the new year.
To our social partners in labor and government, our wish for a brand new year filled with new hopes, exciting goals and enduring industrial peace.