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TUCP to Economic Managers: Create permanent decent jobs, not ENDO jobs!

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines - TUCP

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) is gravely concerned on the continuing dismal job quality and stubbornly high inflation we are experiencing. Unemployment increased to 4.8% in January from 4.3% in December. Dead-ended at double figures for far too long, underemployment further rose to 14.1% in January from 12.6% in December. The situation on the ground is grimmer as poor-quality jobs, eroded incomes, and surging inflation largely remain unaddressed.

With the holiday ‘Ber’ months over, seasonal workers are out of work or thrown into informal sector precarious work. Those still classified as ‘employed’ are trapped in precarious work which is largely either short-term contractual arrangements, ENDO jobs, low-end gig work, or worse, job-sharing/rotation schemes. These are not decent jobs whose income can sustain the health and productivity of working families. Our minimum wage earners (MWEs) are becoming a class of the permanently poor, struggling every day to eke out their bare necessities, with household spending for food impacted by a minimum wage whose real value decreased by 88 pesos per day this month in NCR (NOMINAL daily minimum wage value: ₱570; REAL daily minimum wage value: ₱482). This situation will become increasingly untenable for low-income families surviving in subsistence conditions if high inflation persists.

Millions of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos and their families can barely satisfy their most basic needs as they make hard choices on expenditures for food, rent, and utilities. The 0.1% decrease in inflation to the still-high 8.6% in February hardly makes a dent as food inflation remains elevated at 11.1%, driven by vegetable inflation at an astoundingly high 33.1%. Further, electricity inflation at 19.5% has a domino effect in bringing up the prices of all other goods and services filtering down to the final consumer.

Unless our Economic Managers address poor job quality and the inflationary environment, new entrants to the labor force will be joining the queue of millions of job-sharing workers who can never bring in nutritious food to their family’s table. Resultant malnutrition means sick workers and productivity dropping like a rock. Meanwhile, our children’s mental and physical growth is stunted, resulting in a new generation of “ENDO” workers.

The worsening plight of workers with poor-quality jobs exacerbated by the stubbornly high inflation should serve as a wake-up call to the Economic Team. Their policy measures have yet to cushion the impact of surging inflation. Untempered inflation incessantly erodes the purchasing power of the wages of workers. Households are desperately looking for additional income, even swallowing their pride to rely on better-off relatives in the face of inadequate social safety nets.

TUCP urgently calls on our Economic Managers to adopt the TUCP jobs agenda as the roadmap to inclusive growth and towards building a fair and more decent society:

(a) REVITALIZED NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROGRAM. We welcome the approval of the ₱9 trillion worth of infrastructure flagship projects by NEDA. But it should be centered more on building a national railway system connecting regional and provincial agri-industrial hubs for sustainable long-term economic development. Countering cyclical unemployment and employment seasonality, this will massively create new jobs, ensure food security, decongest NCR and Region 4A, and democratize wealth creation. Permanent decent jobs generation through ‘Build, Better, More’ is made more urgent by persistent high inflation.

(b) SUSTAINABLE INDUSTRIAL POLICY. Formulate an industry promotion strategy anchored on identifying the priority sectors for each region and matching them with available skills based on their respective comparative advantage. Pinpointing and upscaling these identified products and industries will generate new jobs, bolstered by fiscal incentives and tax breaks.

(c) PROVIDE FINANCIAL AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO MSMEs. Provide more grant facilities, capitalization support, low-interest lending programs, loan-forgiveness programs, and temporary tax deferrals for MSMEs. Such assistance should be conditioned on MSMEs retaining their current employees and/or hiring more workers.

In the meantime, TUCP reiterates its concrete immediate suggestions to cushion the impact of surging price spikes on workers, especially minimum wage earners:

(a) BBM AYUDA PARA SA MANGGAGAWANG PILIPINO (BAMP). One-time big-time ₱5,000 government financial assistance to around four million minimum wage earners. This is to help both workers and businesses amid high inflation towards pump-priming the economy through consumption spending as we build back better. Potential funding sources are the Presidential social fund, the billions of additional collection from value-added tax (VAT) due to higher prices, or underutilized funds of the GAA or savings.

(b) EMERGENCY COST OF LIVING ALLOWANCE (ECOLA) to approximate the lost purchasing power of current nominal wages due to inflation. In turn, employers should be provided with tax credit mechanisms as incentives to cushion its impact.

(c) BRING DOWN FOOD INFLATION by massively expanding Kadiwa and Diskwento Caravans. The TUCP partnered with the Marcos Administration for the “Kadiwa ng Pangulo para sa Manggagawang Pilipino” launched in the TUCP labor center last March 8. More “Kadiwa para sa Manggagawa” will be eventually rolled out in all Associated Labor Unions (ALU)-TUCP offices across the country. The full force of the law should be also used against the economic saboteurs—unscrupulous middlemen, cartels, and smugglers—who are “gaming” the market to make quick profit taking.

(d) BRING DOWN ELECTRICITY INFLATION through the Department of Energy (DOE) and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) actually doing their job and fulfilling their regulatory functions through executive measures. Bring down the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) from 15% to 7%. Revert the tariff-setting formula from the current “sky-is-the-limit” performance-based ratemaking (PBR) to original return-on-rate-base (RORB) tariffs. Also, ensure that systems loss due to theft is borne by the utilities as their cost of doing business and not passed-thru to residential and industrial customers.

Emergency allowances, financial assistance, and wage hike petition cannot always be our default response. The TUCP urges going to the root of our surging inflation, namely food and electricity inflation. Unless we do that, workers and employers will be endlessly haggling and clashing over wages, while unscrupulous economic saboteurs in agriculture and rapacious players in the power sector laugh all the way to the bank. Failing this, we will continue to suffer the double whammy of poor job quality and stubbornly high inflation—resulting in a less inclusive society and an uncompetitive economy.

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