We Must Restore The Lost Jobs Quickly
April is the cruelest month, to borrow the words of poet T.S. Eliot. It is, indeed, the cruelest month for the nation’s struggling workers this year. Hundreds of thousands easily lost their jobs as a result of the harsh rules of the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in the capital region and the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Laguna.
But grumbling about the pandemic will not in any way get us through this malaise. We should always look on the bright side of the problem. The virus infection rate has flattened and is actually dropping from the high levels in the early part of April. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Metro Manila mayors have agreed to ease some of the MECQ rules, starting with the shortening of the curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. The government is also allowing the resumption of dine-in operations of restaurants at 10 percent capacity and the reopening of beauty salons, nail spas and barbershops at 30 percent.
The partial reopening of the economy and laxer rules through the flexible MECQ, or MECQ flex, mean a lot to our small workers, who have lost their jobs under the MECQ. Creating jobs through economic reopening will restore the confidence of these workers and ease the social tension within the family. Jobs will boost the spirit of workers and for some who are in danger of being forced to develop a mendicancy mentality, employment is their savior.
It is heartening to learn that the government is trying its best to repair the damage of the MECQ to the economy. The government is now trying to restore hundreds of thousands of jobs lost in April by allowing partial dine-in operations in the national capital region and the so-called NCR Plus provinces.
The IATF, if I may, should increase the capacity of both the dine-in restaurants and personal care industry to 50 percent in order to employ more of our workers.
The dining, fast-food or restaurant sector is one the most labor-intensive segments of the economy. The industry roughly employs around 2 million Filipinos, based on the estimate of the Department of Trade and Industry. The personal care industry comprising of salons and barbershops, on the other hand, employs about 400,000. The figure excludes those working on spas and other wellness establishments.
I agree with what Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said last week. If we open up further the restaurant and the personal care industries, the nation will be partly addressing hunger and poverty that have worsened since the onset of Covid-19. Some 1.5 million employees in the NCR plus region were displaced during the ECQ, per DTI figures, while about 500,000 of the number returned to their jobs under the MECQ.
Quarantine restrictions and reduced consumption, according to the National Economic and Development Authority, have translated into a total household income loss of around P1.04 trillion in 2020, or an average of P2.8 billion a day.
The tourism sector, meanwhile, is another area that the IATF should look into to revitalize the economy. Staycations are still not allowed under MECQ rules, but I believe partially reopening hotels under strict health protocols will create more jobs. The department of Tourism can draft the rules for a safer stay in hotel establishments, especially for families whose children have been prevented from leaving their residences during the entire pandemic time. Hotels are relatively easier to control as long as strict health protocols and contact tracing are enforced.
Again, as I’ve been saying to my readers, the economic reopening comes with responsibility. This is not the time to lower one’s guard. Our past experience tells us that Covid-19 will not disappear just because the infection rate is slowing down. Every worker who has regained his or her job should not be complacent. They must still observe the basic health protocols to protect themselves and members of their family.
The return to MECQ is a painful reminder of lost jobs and livelihoods. Every Filipino should remain vigilant against Covid-19. We are not yet over the hump.