|ILO Director General Guy Ryder (L). Photo courtesy of ILO
MANILA, Philippines – The head of the International Labor Organization believes the Philippines' best asset is none other than the Filipino people.
“I think the biggest potential of the Philippines is its people, not only here in the Philippines but (around the world). Wherever I've lived I've always met Filipinos working, contributing to society's progress, and I think that dynamism is your best asset,” ILO Director General Guy Ryder said in an interview.
Ryder's visit to the Philippines is his first since he was elected as ILO Director General last October 2012. The last visit of ILO's highest official to the country was 17 years ago, in 1995.
Ryder extended his sympathies and help to the victims of typhoon Pablo in the southern Philippines. The ILO estimates about 2.3 million workers, mostly in the Davao region, have been directly affected by the typhoon.
Most of the victims are women aged 15 to 24, and vulnerable family workers like farmers, fisherfolk or street vendors.
Ryder said the ILO has set aside initial funding of US$50,000 or 2 million pesos to jumpstart a livelihood program in partnership with the government.
“We try to help people get back to work with cash-for-work schemes. We try to help in the reconstruction process for infrastructure and also local economic development, to get communities together, to give them a new livelihood prospect. I think we have a big responsibility and a really helpful role to play,” he said.
Protection of domestic workers
Ryder's visit was also timely as the president was about to sign into law the Domestic Workers or Kasambahay bill that was finally ratified by Congress after 15 years.
Ryder hopes the bill will finally recognize this workforce he described as "invisible".
“People somehow think that because (domestic workers) work in private homes, they're not part of public policy. The first step is to make people aware that (domestic workers) are workers like every other worker in the world. They make great contributions, (and) if they stop working the world comes to a stop,” he said.
Danger of jobless growth
On the country's economic growth, Ryder said the 7.5 percent increase in this year's third quarter was respectable. But he also agreed with the notion that it's a jobless growth not felt by ordinary workers.
“I think what really matters is not simply the numbers of jobs created but the quality of jobs created. We see a lot of what we call vulnerable jobs in the Philippines, jobs which don't really provide a sure and stable livelihood for people in the long term. You see a lot of poor people, they're working but they remain poor. The whole purpose of (the ILO’s) decent work agenda is to get people into decent quality employment that renders a good standard of living and good social protection,” he said.
This reality is even more apparent as Christmas approaches. Children flock the streets begging and working to help earn a living. A 2011 survey by the National Statistics Office shows that there are 5.5 million working children aged 5 to 7 years old.
“Providing decent work alternatives for people whose kids go to work is extraordinarily important. We have to do provide social protection for families, so that work doesn't appear as a social obligation and that there are alternatives for young people,” he said.
Decline in trade unions
Another area of concern for the ILO is the decline in trade union membership in the country. He said trade unions are necessary to fight for the rights of workers.
Ryder said the decline in trade union membership is not unique to the Philippines.
“We are seeing in many countries around the world a decline in trade union membership, and it’s got many factors to it. I think the ILO’s job is to provide an enabling environment, an encouraging environment (for workers to organize) and also to make the case to governments and businesses that an organized workforce is actually an advantage,” he said.