After Typhoon Haiyan, what now for the workers?

 

It’s been nearly two weeks since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc across 36 provinces in central Philippines.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 13.2 million people out of a total population of 98.7 million have been affected and more than 4.4 million people have been displaced.

Meanwhile the latest government figures have registered 4,011 dead and 1,602 missing, although these numbers are expected to rise.

Thousands have been left homeless and injured, particularly in the city of Tacloban 360 miles south-east of the capital Manila.

And according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) as many as 5.1 million workers have been affected by the typhoon.

A great number of these people were already in precarious work situations as fisherman, subsistence farmers or working in the informal economy.

But things are expected to get much worse, says the country’s Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, as homes, factories and other workplaces have been destroyed and people struggle to find the money to survive.

“The majority of our workers in Typhoon-affected provinces are in the informal sector, they are very poor as there are not enough big industries there,” she told Equal Times.

The World Bank estimates that at least 60 per cent of the Philippine population lives in coastal areas, with the majority of people living in slums that are unable to withstand the 23-foot-high storm surges charactised by Typhoon Haiyan.

 

“Heartbreaking”

In a statement, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder described the scale of the destruction as “heartbreaking”: “There are millions of people in desperate conditions. [They] need food, water, shelter and basic healthcare and they also need to begin to rebuild their lives.”

ILO Country Director Lawrence Jeff Johnson said the ILO is working with the Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) to provide emergency employment to affected workers in the Visayas.

The disaster response will focus on providing job opportunities to help rebuild roads, markets and drainage systems, as well as provide debris clearance and the construction of emergency shelters.

In addition to providing work and helping to develop skills, Johnson said these jobs would provide the minimum wage as well as health and accident insurance.

“Helping people get back on their feet within decent and safe working conditions is crucial,” Johnson told Equal Times. He also said that having an income would help affected families “cope with the crisis and re-gain their strength and self-esteem.”

 

Emergency employment

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has appointed Baldoz to head a task force to facilitate volunteers to help relief operations as even government workers have been affected by the typhoon.

Two Dole employees in the affected provinces of Cebu and Leyte have been confirmed dead, while of the 60 employees at the regional Dole office in Cebu, two-thirds are still missing.

Baldoz said that government agencies would have to operate in makeshift offices until rebuilding efforts got under way.

She also said the department will allocate an initial 50 million Philippine pesos (US$1.15 million) emergency employment and a further 100 million pesos (US$2.3 million) will be rolled out in January 2014.

This, she said, would assist 12,671 people in three provinces earn a daily wage of 260 pesos (US$6) during the 15-day emergency employment period.

Trade unions in the Philippines have also geared up to offer relief assistance for members who have died, been injured and left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan.

Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), said the FFW is providing relief assistance to its members through donations received in Manila. These include donations of cash, food, soap, medicine and used clothes.

Cedric Bagtas, Acting General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), said that TUCP affiliates and their communities are among those affected. “We fear many of our members transport workers, government workers, teachers, shipping, jeepney drivers, and the informal sector and their families perished, or their houses, property, belongings wiped out.

“Short term assistance is necessary, as are long-term rehabilitation efforts.”

On its website, the Alliance of Progressive Labour (APL) described the relief efforts as “excruciatingly slow – due to a combination of immense logistical requirements, still inaccessible roads littered with debris, inefficient government plans, the local governments were literally wiped out, and the sheer magnitude of the destruction.”

However, it noted that “little by little, international and local aid is now reaching the multitudes of hungry, thirsty, wet, injured, depressed and shocked survivors.”

 

Solidarity and fears

The international response has been swift. According to Baroness Valerie Amos, the under-secretary-general of OCHA, as of November 18, a total of US$193 million has been donated to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

And the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is one of many organisations pledging its solidarity: “Trade unions around the world are asking their members to donate generously to the relief efforts, and our Philippines partners are right now evaluating how best the global trade union community can help,” said Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the ITUC.

The European social justice network SOLIDAR launched a campaign to offer support to the Filipino NGO LEARN which provides services to informal and formal sector workers.

At the UN Climate Change Conference, the Philippines’ chief negiotator Naderev “Yeb” Sano moved delegates to tears with his impassioned plea for urgent climate action and announced that he would go on hunger strike until the talks yielded real results.

But the aid is not reaching people fast enough.

According to Amos less than half of the 2.5 million people directly affected have received humanitarian assistance and there are fears that incidents of looting and violence could descend into anarchy.

Many sick people are without medicine and some families that opted to stay in makeshift tents or their destroyed homes have been attacked by robbers, while there have been reported cases of rape.

Fears have also been raised about a possible increase in child trafficking resulting in sexual and labour abuses for the 1.7 million children displaced by the super typhoon.

UN resident coordinator Luiza Carvalho told the press that the destruction of protective services for children like schools, day care and homes and the fact that many children have either been separated from their parents or orphaned entirely increases the risk of sexual violence and other forms of exploitation.