Construction workers are important workers

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MODERN high-rise office and residential buildings, highways, bridges, classrooms, shopping malls and our homes are all built with the blood, sweat and tears of Filipino construction workers. Construction itself is more dangerous than most other professions. The supposedly mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment or safety equipment, such as helmet, fall protection, gloves and boots, is not always observed. Another important risk factor is the dormitories of these workers – often the buildings under construction or makeshift dormitories. In 2018, five workers were killed in Cebu City when the four-story dormitory for around 160 workers collapsed in the middle of the night. 55 were injured. Recently, a construction worker was killed and one injured when part of a construction site in Cebu City collapsed.

Construction workers have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. When construction sites closed, thousands of workers were not only unemployed but also without a place to stay. Later, when restrictions were eased and delayed construction projects resumed, displaced workers who wanted to return to the cities faced shortages of public transport and other obstacles.

Those who were able to work again did so despite the high risk of developing Covid-19. Not only is construction a contact-intensive industry, but sleeping in dormitories, dormitories or other “accommodations” on site, in which many people are crammed together in a confined space, also increases the risk of virus transmission. Thousands of migrant workers in Singapore have been infected by other migrant workers in overcrowded dormitories. A year ago hundreds of construction workers working on a project in Taguig City tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Last month a major outbreak occurred on a construction project in downtown Cebu City that infected at least 50 of its workers.

Around 400,000 jobs in the construction sector were lost in 2020, which puts the workers and their families in dire straits. The good news is that the sector has recovered. According to the latest labor force survey, the construction sector employed 4.4 million people in May, up from an estimated 3.7 million in 2020 (9.4 percent of 39.38 million workers in 2020). This is more than the estimated 4.1 million in 2019 (9.8 percent of 41.94 million people in employment. The figures come from the preliminary 2020 annual estimates of the Philippine Statistics Agency, March 8, 2021).

The employment rate rose to 64.6 percent in May, while unemployment and underemployment rates fell. The Duterte government’s economic executives said in a joint statement on July 1 that 1.5 million jobs were created between April and May, or 2.2 million the economy has been in reverse since January 2020.

Where did the construction workers and other displaced workers go during the lockdown? Many apparently left the labor market entirely, which is reflected in the low employment rate in 2020. If the labor force participation rate and employment rate of 2019 had been maintained in 2020, around 3.5 million more employees would have been added last year. As jobs come back and people return to the workforce, the effects of the hardship and suffering millions of families have endured as a result of the pandemic are likely to continue.

Some of the displaced workers who returned to the province found temporary jobs in agriculture, forestry and fishing. The share of those in employment in the industry rose from 22.2 percent in 2020 and 2019 to 24.8 percent. Job creation in agriculture and forestry continued this year, with 900,000 additional jobs created from 2020 to May 2021 – quarterly growths of 8.6 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively. But African swine fever caused pig production to shrink by 25.8 percent (PSA, May 10).

Construction work is a common occupation of able-bodied men, especially from the provinces. Not because it is her dream job, but because it is one of her few options, considering that there is no formal training and there are shockingly few opportunities to work and livelihood in the rural areas of the country, even for people with a university degree.

Dangerous and physically demanding jobs, modest pay, mostly project-related employment (i.e. no job security) are the conditions to which the majority of construction workers are exposed. While the construction sector has recovered like other sectors, the plight of construction workers needs to be addressed. They should be given priority in skills upgrading, safety training and other education that could make them more productive, improve their chances of better paying jobs, and raise standards in the construction industry in general. Construction workers are indispensable workers, especially in this build, build, build era.



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