The damage to the job market caused by the pandemic looks likely to be deep and long lasting as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the country.
A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed 45.5 percent of the labor force, or about 27.3 million Filipinos were jobless in July.
For many businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the only way to keep their organizations afloat is to cut costs and let go of a large number of their workers. Unfortunately, whatever cash aid the government could grant under the Bayanihan 2 law for these laid-off employees might take weeks to reach them, too late for their families.
Amid the constant threat of job losses, however, there are a few companies doing the heroic thing of keeping their workers employed. Not all of these businesses are big companies with huge cash reserves.
Take, for instance, the Northern Christian College, a small private school in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, which was founded by a group of evangelical leaders, aided by foreign missionaries and benefactor-families.
Its raison d’etre has always been to minister to the less privileged. As such, the great majority of its students belong to the C, D and E social strata, except their Nursing students, which come from B families.
They only have less than 2,000 students and their average tuition is only P6,000 a semester, a fraction of what many private colleges and universities are charging.
And yet, despite its smaller income stream, this school paid all the salaries of its regular and permanent employees (teaching and non-teaching staff) throughout the lockdown. Even their part-time teachers were paid their full salaries from March until the end of May, which comprise the school months missed owing to quarantine measures.
The school never enforced the no-work-no-pay policy, not even for their office personnel who, unlike the teachers, were doing no work at all.
The school also refunded miscellaneous fees to students, in particular one quarter’s worth for BES (Basic Education School), half a semester’s worth for college, and part of the unused graduation fees for the Graduate School.
It did not increase tuition for the incoming school year, even if the school was also facing the prospect of a massive drop in enrollment and even if its tuition is much less than the miscellaneous fees many private schools are charging.
Not all schools even considered refunding their unused miscellaneous fees, and not all schools paid in full their teachers and non-teaching personnel, even their part-timers, during the quarantine. But the school officials of Northern Christian College felt the word “Christian” in their name would have been a complete mockery if they had not done their best to help their employees, students and parents during this pandemic.
The way this small school has responded to the Covid crisis is a defining moment that will be remembered by its stakeholders for decades.
In March, during the start of the lockdown, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III called on private companies and other big enterprises “to take the extra mile” in assisting their workers, to keep paying their salaries even amid work stoppages, and not resort to retrenchment.
A great many businesses talk about having a social purpose and a set of values, about having corporate social responsibility. Well, this is the best CSR they can do nowadays, to sacrifice short-term profitability for the sake of their people. Anyway, companies lose money all the time. They write off the costs of restructuring, product failures or acquisitions that go wrong. And laying off their skilled workers might even prolong the path to recovery for many companies, since they will have to rebuild their work forces and thus incur new recruiting and training costs.
The country commemorated National Heroes’ Day on Monday. In this light, we also commend the companies and employers who are taking extraordinary and compassionate measures to keep their workers employed during this pandemic. This act, too, is heroism, one that will be remembered and repaid through increased loyalty, higher productivity, and a lasting legacy for many years to come.