“The DOLE considers child labor as a mere law enforcement problem, monitoring cases of child labor, stopping some operations that employ child labor, and threatening to penalize some employers.”– KMU
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Flanked by popular footballers Phil and James Younghusband, Philippine Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and International Labor Organization Country Office for the Philippines Director Lawrence Jeff Johnson announced last Thursday October 17 that the Philippines is joining the Red Card campaign against child labor.
The Red Card campaign was announced at the closing of the Third Global Child Labor Conference in Brasilia a week earlier, and it has already gained the support of Hollywood stars as well as artists and athletes from around the world. In Manila, the campaign’s launch last Thursday featured a press conference, a mini-concert and a football tournament at the Emperador Stadium in Taguig City. Some 200 former child workers joined the launch and football tournament, a month since they began training under Philippine Azkals players Phil and James Younghusband. The English-Filipino brothers have committed to helping former child workers learn football.
A red card is used in several sports, including football, to indicate a serious offense. According to the ILO country office in the Philippines, the football link of the PH campaign against child labor is “particularly appropriate because children in some Asian countries used to be forced to work making footballs, instead of playing the game.”
Football is said to be the most popular global sport, except in the Philippines, which started to take interest in the sport only in recent years. A red card against child labor is “very fitting,” said James Younghusband, who shyly admitted to the media that he himself is something of “a red card specialist,” as he had been shown the red card too many times. But he said that being shown the red card, “teaches you to be a better person.”
In the case of the Red Card campaign, “we see child labor as a serious violation,” said Johnson of ILO. Joining efforts to fight chid labor, he said, can be as simple as holding a red card, taking part in concerted efforts not to buy goods and services made with child labor, not hiring children as domestic workers, and reporting cases of child labor.
Improvement in same child labor survey?
There were an estimated three million child workers according to the 2011 survey of Philippine National Statistics Office. About 99 percent were in hazardous work, more than double the global average. Agriculture remains the sector with the most child workers in the Philippines. Children also work in mines, on the streets, in factories and in private homes as servants.
This data came from the same survey whose “preliminary results” were announced to the media June last year, although this time, the data seem to have focused on child workers in hazardous conditions.
Labor Secretary Baldoz repeatedly made reference to and gave thanks to how the Philippines had been praised by the US Labor Department for having made “significant advance” in eliminating the worst forms of child labor. But as ILO’s Johnson said, three million child workers mean three million reasons to act.
In a statement, the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno expressed doubts about the supposed significant advance.
“First of all, unemployment under the government of Pres. Noynoy Aquino has continued to grow. Not even the government data could hide the fact that Aquino has failed to generate sufficient employment for Filipinos. Not even the so-called economic growth being bragged about by the government has created jobs,” KMU chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog told Bulatlat.com.
He added that since data on child labor in the Philippines were publicized a year ago, the Department of Labor and Employment “has only made noises against child labor.” He explained that Aquino had even downgraded the function of the labor department from “job generation” to mere “job facilitation.”
“Child labor as a complex issue is much related to poverty. Without access to decent and productive work, parents find themselves in vulnerable forms of employment. They are forced to accept or to create whatever work is available, at the same time, to send their children to work in order to survive,” as Johnson of ILO said.
More ‘noises’ vs child labor?
Baldoz congratulated both the ILO for the Red Card campaign, and the Younghusbands for their support. She credited the combined efforts of the ILO, the government agencies and the private sector — or the government’s “convergence strategy” — as the reason why the Philippines made it to the top 10 countries named by the US labor department for having made significant progress in fighting worst forms of child labor.
Baldoz said “this integrated approach is seen as one of the best approaches, as they pool efforts from the Cabinet level, supported by no less than President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III who gave the go signal, together with the private sector, social partners, the media, and we go down to barangay-level in the campaign against child labor.”
With the target to bring the children back to school, to make them finish the necessary education children are entitled to so they could find jobs later, Baldoz said the government is boosting the CCT (conditional cash transfer).
Baldoz said one of the conditions for parents to avail of CCT is whether they allow children to work in hazardous places or not. She announced that in 2014, the government is also set to implement an expanded or modified CCT. In it, the age of children beneficiaries is extended up to 18 yrs. old, so it “covers the whole spectrum of different age groups.”
Aside from CCT and “convergence strategy” (or public-private participation), the other way in which the government is to face child labor is through “labor law compliance,” but preferably voluntary on the part of the employers.
“We want to develop the culture of voluntary compliance, without the government using compulsory enforcement of labor laws,” said Baldoz. To do that, the labor department has an “incentivizing system.”
“Starting next year, full compliance will see to it that 70,000 covered establishments would be subjected to social audit,” Baldoz announced. In a social audit, labor inspectors for which the labor department was given 372 new plantilla items would check for compliance not just with minimum wage and health and safety, but also whether the establishments are employing child labor or not.
A certificate of compliance is to come with perks or incentives, such as the company being free from labor inspection for two years. Toward attaining that certificate, “companies encountering difficulties in complying with our labor laws should get technical assistance from us,” Baldoz said.
With a P90-billion ($2.1 billion) funding to be spread up to 2016 for child elimination programs, the Philippine government would profile and penetrate “new frontier barangays” (those not yet into the “convergence” loop, or not yet profiled), and make barangay executives commit to their convergence programs on child labor, based on Baldoz’s announcements during Thursday’s press conference in Taguig.
Non-solution to child labor
This approach of the government at fighting child labor “does not address the root causes of child labor and will fail to solve the said problem,” the KMU said in a statement. “The DOLE considers child labor as a mere law enforcement problem, monitoring cases of child labor, stopping some operations that employ child labor, and threatening to penalize some employers.”
Asked what could really stop child labor especially its worst forms in the country, Labog replied that would only start to happen if the government would “create sufficient decent jobs for Filipinos.” To do that, the government has to take the lead in freeing the economy from the domination of big foreign capitalists and local elites and carrying out genuine land reform and national industrialization, Labog said.
Unfortunately, the Aquino government has not only rejected such proposals in the past. “The policies it has undertaken implement the exact opposite of these,” the KMU said. The group noted the report of peasant organizations that the Aquino government has further concentrated lands in the hands of the few and followed big capitalist dictates toward pressing down wage levels.
While praising Phil and James Younghusband’s support for campaigns against child labor, the KMU urged the brothers “to deepen their understanding of the root causes of child labor beyond what the deceptive Aquino government says.” Labog invited the Younghusbands to dialogues and integrations with genuine labor and poor people’s groups in the country.