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Advocacy group calls on government to put workers’ needs first in post-ECQ recovery plans

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The Power for People Coalition (P4P), a group of advocates for clean energy and power consumers, has called attention to the burdens bore by working people as they face health risks and lack of income and worry about how to pay for basic utilities due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

While the government has deferred payments for utilities during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), most workers would still have to pay for them upon its lifting even as they face uncertainties whether they still have jobs to return to in the midst of the economic slowdown.

“This is the first Labor Day in the history of the Philippines where workers are unable to march to celebrate their victories and to advance their working conditions. In a way, this is apt because what the pandemic has shown is that workers bear the brunt of every crisis—from COVID-19 to climate change. They lose their jobs, cannot access benefits or social services, get displaced or get sick, and, at the end of the day, they still have to foot the bill for food, water, and electricity and get no say in any of these,” said P4P Convenor Gerry Arances, in a statement during the weekend.

Despite government assistance efforts, working families continue to struggle with meeting basic necessities, particularly those who lost their means of income due to the closure of factories and other places of employment during the quarantine.

“First, we need to survive. We need income and assistance from the government to be able to pick ourselves up again after this crisis is over. Not everyone has been given assistance yet. Next, our country as a whole needs long-term solutions for a just and inclusive recovery, in which the collective efforts of working people is crucial. The government must recognize the role of workers as fellow builders of society and empower them to fulfill it moving forward,” said worker representative Carlito Bisa, President of the Federation of Unions of BPI Unibank.

Arances, who is also the Executive Director of the think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), cited the position paper published by CEED on Monday which called on the government to resist the temptation to return to the “normal way” of doing things.

Quoting the position paper, Arances said, “Obsessed with economic growth and development at all costs, countries around the world are already making financial and policy decisions to ensure the restoration of business-as-usual patterns even while the crisis has yet to be resolved… It was the normal consumption-oriented economy and operation of destructive industries that brought about both the climate crisis and rising health problems of the modern day. There is no reason to simply return to it.”

Arances said that the government’s responses to the pandemic showed that radical change is possible so long as the political will and genuine concern for the working class are present.

“The government can build a people-centered economy which would allow workers to enjoy their fair share of the fruits of their labors. And the government can begin that by waiving the utility bills of all residential units for the duration of the quarantine and providing direct assistance to workers instead of bailing out or subsidizing big companies. The government is in full control of the economy after the ECQ. What they would do would show their priorities to the people,” said Arances./Stacy Ang

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