January 5, 2009
The government’s emergency work program could have been a good start for the new year but immediately it turned in the wrong direction. By making the work program’s implementation skewed towards the home provinces and political bailiwicks of cabinet secretaries, it ensured that the project would be strangled by patronage politics. Economics will then serve the interests of politics.
The emergency work program must be radically reformed. The patronage system must be exorcised from it by putting the employment program under the co-ownership if not control of people’s organizations.
Also minimum labor standards at the very least must be guaranteed instead of the present setup where the “kamineros” and “oysters” are hired on a contractual basis for below minimum wages. No matter that it is a dirty job as long as it is decent work.
The public employment program should not be limited to street cleaning and whitewashing walls but must include restoring the environment and building housing for the poor aside from the usual public works projects. Given the sorry state of the environment and the backlog in public housing, just these two sectors are significant enough to provide millions of jobs for a start.
The scope of the work program must not be limited to those who will be laid off due to the global crisis. It is imperative to give jobs to the four million who were unemployed even before the crisis struck. Since the private sector apparently is not interested in hiring them, then it is the responsibility of the government to establish a state employment program.
The government must subsidize all workers who will be retrenched because of the ongoing crisis. The SSS, GSIS and the OWWA must use its funds to subsidize private sector workers, government employees and overseas contract workers respectively until they can find work up to a maximum of six months.
As to the billion peso question, where will the government get the money to spend on the work program and unemployment subsidy for the workers and the poor, the easiest answer is for the state to save that part of the budget that is automatically appropriated for debt payment—interest alone is equivalent to 30% of the national appropriations and together with the principal amounts to 70%—and instead use it to finance this vastly expanded social program. Not paying the banks for the debt, legitimate or otherwise that we ostensibly owe them, is a light punishment for the high crimes that they have done.