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APRIL 6, 2019

AS I SEE IT

Can the BBB Project of Duterte Stop People Seeking Work Abroad?

by Elpidio R. ESTIOKO

The country’s growing population and the favorable policies of the Philippine government has created more opportunities in the construction industry and have given more Filipinos better chances to work in the country instead of working abroad!

These are factors that prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to launch his landmark program, the Build, Build, and Build (BBB) project, to boost the construction industry and close the infrastructure gap… eventually leading to improved economy. The project seeks to accelerate infrastructure spending and develop industries that will trigger robust growth, create jobs and improve the lives of Filipinos.

As I See It, this is also a move designed to discourage or stop skilled workers applying for work abroad. But, unless the pay locally is competitive with that in foreign countries and stable jobs workers can look up to in the long run, we can’t stop skilled workers to leave the country and work abroad. To avoid this, pay should be competitive, must provide local incentives, and more or less, offer a stable job.

Well, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III claims that the government’s BBB program would eventually generate jobs for repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). It was designed, according to Bello, “to modernize the country’s infrastructure backbone by rolling out 75 flagship projects worth $36 billion in investments and would eventually generate two million jobs a year, or around 10 million jobs by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.”

Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Rep. Emmi de Jesus, on the other hand said that BBB is not a solution to the problems affecting OFWs as claimed by Bello. She explained that BBB jobs are “project-based, low-paying jobs which will not solve the woes of repatriated OFWs… It will only create temporary jobs even if there are many construction projects lined up. In 2-5 years, wala na ang mga trabahong ito,” she pointed out. Well, de Jesus may have a point as far as the length of the project is concerned. That span of three to four years, somehow is equivalent to an OFW’s contract, so I think that’s fine. If jobs run out, that will be the time they will have to apply for overseas work again. At least, they were given a chance to stay home, contribute to the country and be with their families for that span of time. So that it will not be a palliative solution, after four to five years, BBB’s goal should be extended and similar work-generating projects should be launched to keep the momentum going.

This may not impact the state of Hawaii because, instead of skilled labor workers, Hawaii needs people to work at its many pineapple, coconut, and sugarcane plantations. They also need people to work in service-oriented establishments such as restaurants, eateries, and hotels. And… new Americans in Hawaii serve as everything from nursing aides to entrepreneurs… not skilled construction workers.

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Director General Secretary Isidro S. Lapeña thought this is a chance for his department to support the President’s BBB project in training unskilled workers and retraining skilled workers needed by the program companies need. At present, there is a dearth of skilled workers because of the exodus of workers working abroad. TESDA can be the support arm to provide workforce training for employment.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which is tasked to construct national roads, bridges, water resources projects and other public works, received a total budget allocation of P650.87B ($12.9B) for 2018 – a 39% increase over 2017 – of which P613.2B ($12.1B) is earmarked for the construction of various infrastructure projects. This boosts the construction industry even more, making the project more viable!

Despite these positive trends, however, there are recurring security and import challenges for construction materials such as cement and steel. To address this problem, the Construction Industry Authority of the Philippines (CIAP) is spearheading the creation of a construction road map.

Another major concern is the availability of skilled and unskilled labor for construction projects. Aside from the low inventory of skilled workers in the country at present, most of them are leaving the country to work abroad thus shrinking the numbers even more. In response, free government training programs are being offered in an effort to bolster the construction sector’s workforce.

Key infrastructure projects under the BBB Program include: (a) the Subic-Clark Railway; (b) the North-South railway projects connecting Los Baños, Laguna to Tutuban, Manila and Clark Freeport in Pampanga; and (c) a 1,500-hectare industrial park in Clark, Pampanga; and (d) an expanded Clark International Airport also in Pampanga, among others.

Consequently, TESDA and the Department of Public Works (DPWH), according to Lapena, met to discuss plan to fast track construction skills training. They have directed their respective regional directors to immediately start coordinating pending the memorandum of agreement between the two agencies that will officially seal the on-site training plan.

In an email release sent through his Public Information Officer (PIO), Secretary Lapeña said he initiated the talks lately with DPWH Secretary Mark Villar and came out with a proposal dubbed as the Program on Project-based On-site Learning of Skilled Construction Professionals (PPOL SCoP). The proposal addresses applicable construction skills training in DPWH project sites, as a support program for the President’s BBB project.

Aside from the DPWH, Lapeña proposed that the on-site construction skills training must be in close partnership with the local government units (LGUs) and government-accredited construction companies.

Based on this proposal, each training will be different depending on the specific skills needed in the site. The training plan and curriculum will be developed by TESDA and the in-company trainers, construction superintendents, supervisors, and lead men to better prepare the trainees for work.

TESDA’s proposal is in line with Republic Act No. 6685 which makes it mandatory for contractors to hire at least fifty per cent unskilled and thirty per cent skilled workers from bona fide residents where government infrastructures are being constructed. Bringing the training near these residents can encourage them to attend the free training and acquire construction-related jobs.

Since TESDA is also gathering information on the employment status of the 83,649 graduates in 2017 and the 234,546 graduates in 2018, they can simultaneously address the challenges on unemployment and skills mismatch, one of the Agency’s thrusts under Secretary Lapeña’s supervision.

Everything is in place, but just like what I mentioned earlier and the concerns of Rep. Emmi de Jesus, in order to stop the exodus of workers abroad, local pay under the BBB project should be competitive, i.e. within the level of OFW’s compensation, in order to entice skilled workers to stay and work here. Besides, whatever little deficit in pay will be compensated by workers being with their families and need not be away from them.

For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.

 

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