Villanueva pays tribute to Filipino workers on Labor Day, vows to protect jobs and rights

Senator Joel Villanueva paid tribute to the resilience and sacrifices of Filipino workers as he expressed his continued commitment to advocate for the country's labor sector by plugging loopholes in the bureaucracy that allow influx of illegal foreign workers in the country.

"In the hearings we conducted, we've laid out how foreigners circumvented our labor and immigration laws to seek gainful employment to the detriment of Filipinos. Ngayong Labor Day, umaasa tayo na tutuldukan na ng ating mga kinauukulan ang pagdagsa ng illegal foreign workers dito sa bansa," said Villanueva, chair of the Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, in a statement.

In his message on Labor Day, Villanueva underscored how the influx of illegal foreign workers contributes to the wage disparity among Filipino workers and foreigners, which indirectly triggers a spike in related sectors such as real estate. In urban areas where foreign workers are employed, rent prices shot up as much as three times the going rate since some foreigners are more willing to shell out compared to Filipinos, the senator said citing reports his office received.

He also lamented that despite the higher premium on wages of foreign workers, some if not most of them are unregistered properly with the government, resulting to lost opportunities to collect taxes. Earlier this year, the Department of Finance estimated that about P22 billion in taxes were not collected from illegal foreign workers.

"Sa ating pananaw, double whammy ito para sa ating mga Pilipino. Nawalan na tayo ng pagkakataon na magtrabaho, hindi pa nakolektahan ng tamang buwis ang mga banyagang manggagawa," Villanueva pointed out. "Masyado naman po ata tayong naging dehado sa sarili nating bayan."

"Let me be clear, though. We are not against foreign workers, nor are we singling out a nationality. We have our labor laws that specifically allow foreign workers to seek employment here, provided that no Filipino is capable, able, and willing to do the job," he continued. "Only the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) can vet foreign workers as provided by the Labor Code. No other agency, therefore, can allow foreigner to work on our shores without DOLE's sanction."

Putting an end to the proliferation of illegal foreign workers can help ease the burden of Filipino workers, but Villanueva explained that this is just one of the issues facing Filipino workers. He urged stakeholders in the labor sector to press on with the work that has been done to improve workers' safety and health, job-skills mismatch, security of tenure, and wage disparity, among others.

"Marami po tayong dapat tugunan at mga gawain, at hinihimok ko ang inyong pakikiisa upang maitawid natin ang mga ito mapaisabatas man o sa maayos na pagpapatupad," he said.

He pointed out that the need of Filipino workers to be vigilant on their rights. In light of the recent earthquakes that shook parts of Luzon and the Visayas on April 22 and 23, he said workers could exercise their rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Law.

"The reports that some employers stopped their employees from evacuating their places of work during the earthquake is disturbing to say the least," the senator said. "Nonetheless, this should be an opportunity to raise awareness on the obligations and duties of employers to their employees, especially in terms of occupational health and safety. Unahin po natin ang kapakanan ng mga taong tumutulong na patakbuhin ang ating mga opisina at negosyo."

Addressing unemployment, Villanueva called for the immediate implementation of the Tulong Trabaho law, which he authored and shepherded, to address jobs-skills mismatch. The law provides funds for training in tech-voc courses that are in demand as determined through periodic review of tech-voc jobs. Under the law, scholars have guaranteed job opportunities when they finish their training and certification.

Villanueva also highlighted the need for vigilance to ensure compliance with social protection guarantee for workers having a work-from-home employment arrangement with their employers through the law on telecommuting, which he advocated and authored.

On the security of tenure bill, Villanueva expressed optimism that the entire Senate will push for the passage of the bill and send it to the bicameral conference when session resumes and heads into the final three weeks of the 17th Congress. The bill is on second reading and under the period of amendments just as the Senate headed to its legislative break in February.

"We trust our colleagues will not want to fail the President who certified the bill as a priority measure of the administration," Villanueva said.

On the perennial problem of wage disparity, the senator called on government agencies such as DOLE and the National Economic Development Authority to study and present to Congress a policy recommendation on a mechanism that will formulate a living wage that puts premium on proper nourishment. He cited a study on how malnutrition affects workers and their families, with a research showing that stunting among families could impact the next generation of workers.

"We agree with the Senate President that the issue on wage increase should be tackled after the elections. We want a reasonable, nuanced discussion on the issue so that we can really do something about it, instead of the usual lip service we hear," Villanueva said.

Source: Senate of the Philippines