QUEZON CITY – At least one million workers in the agricultural sector stand to lose their jobs in the coming months as an intense El Niño threatens to lay waste large tracts of agricultural lands in several provinces, according to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).
The TUCP, the country’s biggest labor group, aired the warning even as it urged the government to immediately institute mitigation plans, including provision of livelihood assistance to farmers and other agricultural workers who will be adversely affected by El Nino, a prolonged dry spell.
“We urge the government, from the national down to the local government units, to include in its mitigation plans those workers in the agriculture sector who may be rendered jobless due to the intense weather phenomenon. These types of workers suffer double whammy because not only will they lose their livelihood and income, they also suffer as consumers,” the TUCP said.
Records from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) showed that as of April this year, there were 11.4 million workers in the agricultural sector, down by 400,000 from 11.8 million in 2014.
Aside from farming and harvesting, the sector also includes hunting, forestry and fishing.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said the agricultural sector contracted by 0.37 percent in the second quarter of the year because of the intense heat that destroyed crops,
“Our agriculture workers particularly in the rural areas are underwaged, that is why the sector always had the highest underemployment incidence. Besides that, we do not see agricultural workers in the El Nino rescue plan of the government,” TUCP spokesman Allan Tanjusay said.
From 11.9 million in 2010, workers in the agricultural sector rose to 12.2 million in 2011–the highest rise in a five-year period–and dwindled to 12 million in 2012 and further down to 11.83 million in 2013.
In July this year, unemployment in the sector rose to a total of 755,000 workers.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) secretary-general and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan blamed the onset of the El Nino phenomenon for causing an uptick in unemployment in the sector.
Earlier, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle issued a circular calling on all clergy, superiors of religious communities and heads of secular institutes in the archdiocese of Manila to pray the Oratio Imperata Ad Petendam Pluvian or Oraio Imperata for the Impending Drought to address the impending long dry spell that threatens to affect the whole country until next year as a result of the El Nino phenomenon.
“This impending situation brings us to the brink of helplessness, but not hopelessness, as we turn to God our Father, to turn His mercy on us and shorten the life of El Nino and bring down the rain to avert the crisis,” Tagle said.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said 58 percent of the country are experiencing effects of El Nino and could increase to 85 percent in February 2016.
Provinces heavily affected by the phenomenon are Quirino, Aurora, Quezon, Bohol, Siquijor, Camiguin and Misamis Oriental.
The prolonged drought would seriously affect about 46 provinces, causing damage to agriculture and critical water supply for human consumption.
Last July, around 755,000 workers in the agricultural sector were reported jobless because of the El Nino phenomenon, according to data provided by the BAS and the PSA.
So, if El Nino will continue in the next six months, the 1 million workers in the agricultural sector losing their jobs is evidently bad news for the economy.
Balisacan earlier admitted that the dry spell will surely send workers in the agricultural sector jobless because of the bad weather’s direct attack on the land.
To help the workers cope with economic difficulties for the same period, TUCP’s Tanjusay urged the Aquino administration to include “livelihood and assistance [programs] for the [affected workers] in mitigation plans being drawn up by various national government agencies and local government units [LGUs].”
BAS and PSA records showed that the country has a total of 11.4 million agricultural workers as of April this year.
The agricultural workers are described as one of the poorest sectors of the country since their income always depends on the status of agriculture.
If there is dry spell caused by El Nino, they face severe difficulty in providing for their daily needs.
Thus, Gerard Seno, executive vice president of the Associated Labor Unions, said his group, a member of TUCP, “urges government [officials] from the national [level] down to the LGUs to [also] include in their mitigation plans [the] workers in the agricultural sector who [would] be … jobless due to the intense weather phenomenon. These … workers [are expected to] suffer [triple] whammy because … they lose their livelihood, income [and] also suffer as consumers.”