OSH Profile: The Philippines

BY  ADMIN

The economy of the Philippines has been growing steadily in the last decade. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to expand by 6.7 per cent in 2015, reaching USD 317.8 billion, and will likely continue growing until 2019 by an average 6.2 per cent yearly. The Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011 to 2016 seeks “to foster inclusive growth based on massive quality employment creation”. The plan highlights construction and manufacturing as two key growth sectors in terms of their contribution to job creation. In addition, the PDP targets significant productivity increases in the agricultural sector, which employs nearly 30 per cent of the Philippine labour force and 27.8 per cent of which are young workers.

The PDP aims to implement a Manufacturing Revival Programme, led by several government agencies, including the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE). Currently, there are several major on-going and planned infrastructure projects and programmes to boost the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and to strengthen job creation in strategic industries. However, there is a clear need to ensure that these jobs do not contribute to the problem of vulnerable employment, which is characterized by a lack of worker representation, instability, inadequate earnings, no social protection benefits, and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

The government strategy is proving relatively successful in economic terms, but parallel investments in labour protection to accompany this rapid growth have not kept pace, especially with regard to the younger members of the labour market. The population under 25 years of age represents 50 per cent of the 102 million person population projected for 2015, with the 15-24 youth age group accounting for approximately 40 per cent of the under-25s. In the 2013 Labour Force Survey (LFS), the youth comprise 19.2 per cent (7.3 million) of the total employed. Among employed youth, those ages 15 to 24 are found principally in the agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, accommodation and food service, and construction sectors (see Table 1).

Industry Number of Youth Employed Share of Total Youth Employment (%)
Agriculture 2,038,244 27.8
Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles 1,477,792 20.1
Manufacturing 692,492 9.4
Accommodation and food service activities 445,667 6.1
Construction 400,864 5.5
Other industries 2,279,522 31.1
Total 7,334,580 100

A persistent labour surplus and limited employment stability deter workers’ demands for labour protection and help to create a work environment in which sub-standard conditions of work - including unsafe and unhealthy working conditions - prevail. This is particularly true for young workers, who generally have a limited awareness of their labour rights, and are inadequately represented, if at all, on social dialogue platforms.
 

The government is committed to shift from a compensatory to a preventive OSH paradigm, notably through enhanced advisory services by the DOLE and the Occupational Safety and Health Center (OSHC), to achieve better workplace compliance. While OSH issues in all sectors of economic activity need attention, the Secretary of Labour and Employment has requested ILO technical assistance in monitoring safety and health conditions in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Other concerned stakeholders have also emphasized that construction and manufacturing are among the most pressing national OSH compliance priorities. 

Labour subcontracting practices in construction are generally considered to be an important contributing factor to unsafe working conditions. The government hopes to address this problem and eliminate “fly-by-night” contractors. A joint memorandum of understanding was signed between the DOLE, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Philippines Regulation Commission (PRC) to jointly address OSH in the sector. Each agency has an assigned role to play, with an ambitious goal to “monitor” all construction sites by April 2015. Project activities to protect young workers in the construction sector are needed and have been welcomed by government authorities.

The May 2015 Kentex Factory fire, which resulted in 72 fatalities, drove calls for stronger safety and health measures in the manufacturing sector, including but not limited to the following sub-sectors: chemicals and chemical products, rubber and plastic products, metals and machinery. In the wake of the disaster, the Committee on Labour and Employment of the Philippine Congress conducted consultations and investigations and drafted various OSH bills to address rising public concerns. These bills are still at the hearing stage but have the potential to be enacted before the end of the 16th Congress.

The renewed emphasis of the government on OSH enforcement also provides an opportunity to conduct a review of the results of actions previously taken to implement OSH policies and programmes. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has identified such a review as a critical step in verifying the level of coherence of the country’s OSH system and identifying new and existing areas of concern that need further improvement. Thus, the CEACR reiterated that the regular review of national OSH action in light of the national situation is a central element of a preventive approach that underpins the progressive, dynamic nature of the relevant ILO OSH instruments.
 

The country has the necessary institutional infrastructure for effective OSH prevention, and the relevant institutions are actively working towards this goal. However, although progress has taken place, it is not occurring at the pace necessary to keep up with the current rate of economic growth. Various interventions are necessary to ensure that young workers’ safety and health concerns are appropriately addressed. Although the DOLE is the lead agency for OSH, other branches of government at the national and local level such as the Department of Health (DOH), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Department of Education (DepEd), and local government units (LGUs), among others, the private sector, industry actors, social partners, universities, technical vocational and education and training (TVET) institutions, and relevant professional associations must be engaged and capacitated to collectively develop a comprehensive prevention approach.

An additional sector which is not experiencing rapid growth and change, but which remains an important OSH concern, is agriculture. Agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations in the world. A wide range of workplace hazards are encountered in agriculture, including but not limited to those related to machinery, hazardous chemicals, toxic or carcinogenic agents, transmissible or infectious diseases, ergonomic hazards, and hazards associated with confined spaces, noise and vibration. Agricultural enterprises, in contrast to manufacturing and construction sites, are widely dispersed across the Philippine archipelago. Consequently, access to farms and plantations by OSH inspectors and specialists is often difficult and resource intensive. As a result, OSH issues in agriculture often escape the attention of authorities. For example, pesticide poisoning, attributable in part to low levels of awareness and poor protective equipment, is reportedly one of the most prevalent health issues in the Philippines.