Tell SunStar: Agri-workers to Dole: Make sure the help goes to the people
As high-risk regions like the National Capital Region remain under lockdown and more areas have reverted to more stringent quarantine classifications, we are calling on the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) to guarantee the full use of financial assistance to workers. It is also about ensuring that aid reaches its recipients.
Dole shouldn’t be too quick to congratulate himself as he bragged about having obtained an unqualified audit opinion (UAO) from COA. The same report showed that under Bayanihan 1 its P42.65million funding for Covid-19 was not being used. Another 3.76 billion pesos remained unused under Bayanihan 2 as of March 24, 2021. Such a huge amount could have benefited around 800,000 workers if each had received 5,000 pesos.
Dole’s Covid-19 financial aid was channeled through the Covid-19 (Camp) adjustment measures program, which gave P 5,000 in cash; its cash-for-work program, Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged / Displaced Workers (Tupad), mainly aimed at workers in the informal sector; and Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (Akap), for Filipino workers displaced abroad.
The same COA report said about 50.84 million Tupad pesos transferred to local government units (LGUs) had not yet been liquidated. This means that whether or not the amount reached the affected workers targeted by the program was uncertain. In the past, Tupad had been criticized by farm workers for being accessible only to those who were politically affiliated with incumbent LGU officials. The classification of agricultural workers as informal workers was also seen as a scapegoat to provide them with the adequate assistance that suits them.
It is crucial for Dole to ensure that the funds are fully used to tackle the worsening unemployment and poverty in the country. Workers, including agricultural workers like us, demand the efficiency we deserve. In June 2021, the number of unemployed stood at 3.8 million and the underemployed at 6.4 million. If, according to the COA report, only 3.4 million beneficiaries had benefited from Dole’s Covid-19 assistance program from April 2020 to June 2021, did they expect the rest of them? were we simply suffering from hunger?
Farm workers were particularly on the losing side of Dole’s poor performance in aid distribution. At least 16,466 of them should have received aid on the basis of the Camp application of 649 establishments and employers classified in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector. This figure was already very far from the real number of agricultural workers in the field, yet only 210 of these candidates obtained approval, to the benefit of only 3,543 agro-workers. Flores said such incompetence was unacceptable and deserved to be condemned by agricultural workers. (For full text visit: www.sunstar.com.ph)
The sugar workers, too, had already been abandoned by the Ministry of Labor. Last year, the Office of Dole Workers with Special Concerns (BSWC) released a tiny P49.267 million to 49,267 beneficiaries, raising the amount of the Unclaimed and Undistributed Cash Bonus Fund (UCBF) and the Disaster relief fund of the Social-Socio-Economic Project Fund (SAP-SEPF). These beneficiaries represented only 6.35% of sugar and mill workers as well as small-scale sugar cane farmers affected by the COVID-19 containment.
Despite being seen as essential workers, agro-workers face several obstacles to their livelihoods amid the bottlenecks related to the pandemic. The closure of agro-industrial plantations, sugar factories, refineries and bioethanol factories has cut off their main sources of income. Daily wage earners suffered a drop in their income, with the number of working days per week dropping from six to three. For a time, the restriction on public transport also prevented agro-workers from reaching farms and other construction sites outside their barangays.
Even under normal circumstances, our employers are already depriving us of government-mandated benefits. Many of us don’t even make minimum wage no matter how low regional minimum wage rates are. The government’s financial assistance could have gone a long way to increasing our income or meeting our medical needs. Agricultural workers do not ask for special treatment or distribution. We demand the state services we deserve, as Filipino workers and citizens.
We challenge the Dole to move beyond its recent statement that the agency is going after employers who have refused cash assistance to their workers. According to the federation, if the promise of the Ministry of Labor was to be believed, it should also kick out sugar mills, planter associations, cooperatives and planter members who had not yet distributed cash bonuses as mandated. by the Social Improvement Program for Sugar Workers (RA 6982) and advised by COA. These bonuses had already accumulated to a staggering amount of 422.77 million pesos, not distributed since 1991.