Monday, January 26, 2009

Group criticizes DOLE assistance program as inadequate, supports debt cut to fund bailout package

Press Release
January 26, 2009

The Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) criticized the displaced workers assistance program of DOLE called Workers’ Income Augmentation Program (WINAP) as inadequate. The group called instead for an expeditious program that combines a subsidy with retraining.

“There must be one-stop shops and substantial subsidies for laid off workers similar to that given to pioneer investors. It takes three months for a union or group applying for assistance under WINAP until the proposal is approved. And then it takes some more time until the funds are released. While for individuals filing for WINAP, the P5,000 assistance is too small and is consumed in just a month’s time for the family’ basic necessities,” explained Renato Magtubo, PM chairperson.

The group also appealed to Congress to override the veto announced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the debt cut by the bicameral conference committee. “Not paying the banks for the debt, legitimate or otherwise, that we ostensibly owe them is a light punishment for the high crime of sparking this global crisis. The government must realign 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 the bailout and stimulus package for the workers and the poor,” argued Magtubo.

Magtubo also urged government and employers to heed the demand for a bailout and stimulus package for workers as the specter of labor unrest looms over the massive job losses. “In Cebu, the labor dispute at the Giardini furniture factory may erupt into a strike in a few days. Tomorrow a Lakbayan will be launched by displaced workers from Mandaue City that will end in a protest at the DOLE Region VII office at Cebu City. These mass actions are an expression of workers discontent at retrenchments and rotation,” asserted Magtubo.

The group spelled out in details its proposed bailout scheme. First, government must subsidize all workers who will be retrenched because of the ongoing crisis. The Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Authority (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. The subsidy can be set at a certain percentage of their former pay and complements the retraining program for displaced workers akin to the Danish model.

Second, the stimulus package can take the form of a tax refund for all workers equivalent to two months of their salary. This effectively means giving workers a 14th and 15th month wage. The last thing that industries need is to be squeezed by the tightening of commercial credit on the one hand and on the other by a contraction in consumer spending.

And third, it is imperative to give jobs to the millions who were unemployed even before the crisis struck. “In form, this program can be similar to the present ‘Patrabaho ni Gloria.’ Although of course the name must be changed to ‘Patrabaho ng Gobyerno’ right away. But more than this cosmetic change, the state employment 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,” Magtubo explained.

He added “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.”

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