So, will there be a golden age for Philippine labor finally?

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

We pay tribute to our laborers annually. The ritual, done with full formalities while others commemorate it with indignant alternative protests, is not enough to alter the desperate conditions of millions of Filipino workers who have yet to see the day when truly, they can enjoy the same comfort of the homes that they help build, traverse the roads through their own vehicles and send their children to the schools that would hopefully change their fate.

Let’s further discuss if, indeed, there will be a golden age for Philippine labor. I received emails and text messages that asked me to expound on this. Let’s extend the discussion. The plight of our workers, especially those in the blue-collar and informal sectors, must be given the necessary sincere deliberation, even if it’s not Labor Day.

Their daily struggle against mere basic survival needs our collective urgent attention. They deserve the much-delayed comprehensive solution that ultimately allows them to live with the assurance that they can enjoy the benefits of a vibrant free economy.

As I have explained, we have to look beyond the confines of labor itself to craft and pursue the solution to ending the vicious cycle of labor being a critical pillar of the economy, yet the workers are trapped in helplessness in coping with their daily expenses.

Focus on encouraging the entry of foreign direct investments. Our economy needs to grow almost exponentially from the additional foreign players in all industries, particularly in the manufacturing, energy, tourism, agro-industrial and telecommunication sectors.

New capital must come in and augment the strategic long-term funds that will spur a stronger economy. The bigger capital base creates more jobs which means more sources of income for our labor pool. Our workers would benefit first because of the increasing abundance of work that will offer compensations and benefits at par with global standards.

Thus, this growth initiated by foreign direct investments will roll a virtuous cycle of wealth creation from the macro-level to the individual homes of Filipinos who have been deprived of better living conditions due to the average P341-P570 daily wages that could hardly sustain their most basic needs.

We have to clearly realize that we are 6th out of eight Southeast Asian countries in terms of FDIs, according to the 2022 report of the US State Department on Investment Climate. The reasons for our dismal ranking are the “poor infrastructure in the country, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, corruption,” among others.

Furthermore, bigger FDIs mean access to a larger global market, and availability to better technologies for our local needs. Indeed, this virtuous cycle will benefit us especially, our laborers.

We must more deeply discuss how to attract and protect FDIs in another column. For now, we first have to accept that a locally driven growth is not sufficient because of time constraints and limited capabilities of our enterprises. We can grow on our own, yes. But a slower-paced growth will not immediately rescue millions of our laborers who need the help decades ago.

Strategic solutions must be implemented soon. Job creation must be at the forefront of solving the myriads of labor problems. The availability of more jobs is on top of the list of solutions to labor issues.

For example, we must look into the whole process of skills and knowledge development that must be more than mere job matching. Our advance and technical education system must be geared towards anticipating the needs of the economy and strategically link the competencies of our workers and future managers to the jobs that will be made available in a fast-growing economy.

The two most prevalent issues that plague us are unemployment and under-employment. Meaning, the main culprits are the unavailability of enough jobs and the availability of jobs that are not fairly fit to the workers’ prepared skills sets, respectively. According to reports, more than four million or 12 percent of our labor force are jobless. And more than five million or 17 percent of those employed are under-employed.

The philosophical discourses on the nature of labor are wide ranging, from the most revolutionary Marxist socialist frameworks up to the most open free enterprise advocacies of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman.

But the most practical dilemma on labor’s survival stares at us now. Creating more jobs in the fastest way possible means saving our workers from their daily hardships and in the process, we give them hope for their children.

So, again, will there be a golden age for Philippine labor? It depends.

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