Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction industry in the Cordilleras and the rest of the country was growing at a robust pace due to the ongoing infrastructure investment and the launch of the Philippine Construction Industry Roadmap 2020–2030. However, with the government announcing strict measures to slow the spread of the virus, construction projects slowed down.
In May 2020, the government has started to partially ease restrictions due to the economic strain. All public and private construction projects were allowed to resume in areas under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ), while in the areas under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), selected type of priority construction projects were allowed to resume. All major infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build (BBB) program were allowed to resume.
Krisanto, 16 years old and his friends’ Carlos and Alex, both 17 years old from early morning until sundown are inside a construction site. They are construction laborers and helpers typically do cleaning and preparing construction sites by removing debris and possible hazards; load or unload building materials to be used in construction; build or take apart bracing, scaffolding, and temporary structures.
These teenagers represent thousands of child workers in the country who quit school to work fulltime to support their families during this COVID-19 pandemic. They are very profitable assets since their pay is very low and are easy to be manipulated.
The law clearly prohibits the employment of children especially in hazardous industries, and construction is considered hazardous. The leading causes of death on construction sites are falls, electrocution, getting struck by object, and getting caught in-between (a broad category that include cave-ins, getting pulling into machinery, and getting hit by machinery.)
The Labor Code provisions on Young Workers or the employment of minors as expressed by Article 137 or the Minimum Employable Age. Says that “No child below fifteen (15) years of age shall be employed, except when he works directly under the sole responsibility of his parents or guardian, and his employment does not in any way interfere with his schooling. (b) Any person between fifteen (15) and eighteen (18) years of age may be employed for such number of hours and such periods of the day as determined by the Secretary of Labor and Employment in appropriate regulations. (c) The foregoing provisions shall in no case allow the employment of a person below eighteen (18) years of age in an undertaking which is hazardous or deleterious in nature as determined by the Secretary of Labor and Employment and Article 138 or the Prohibition Against Child Discrimination and that no employer shall discriminate against any person in respect to terms and conditions of employment on account of his age.
Also, Republic Act No. 9231 (An Act Providing for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Affording Stronger Protection for the Working Child, Amending for this Purpose Republic Act No. 7610, as amended, otherwise known as the “Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”) was signed into law on 19 December 2013. It provides for special protection to children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation and discrimination, and other conditions prejudicial to their development including child labor and its worst forms. The law provides for minimum employable age; hours of work of a working child; prohibition on the engagement of children in worst forms of child labor; and provides administrative and criminal sanctions for violations.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) serving as a ‘broker’ or a bridge between child laborers in need of assistance, DOLE CAR Regional Director Nathaniel Lacambra will fully implement the “KASAMA” program or “Kabuhayan Para sa Magulang ng Batang Manggagawa” which aims to contribute to the prevention and elimination of child labor by providing families of child laborers access to decent livelihood opportunities for enhanced income. The program is given a 10% allocation from the total DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program and Emergency Employment Programs (DILEEP) budget.
It is anchored on the Philippine Program Against Child Labor (PPACL) Framework and is implemented through DOLE’s Accredited Co-Partners (ACP) which are responsible for the direct delivery of services to the beneficiaries. The target beneficiaries for KASAMA are parents or guardian of child laborers and elder brothers or sisters of child laborers who are of employable age. The beneficiaries shall commit to take active participation in group activities including social preparation, trainings and actual project implementation, and shall express their willingness to remove or not engage their children in hazardous or exploitative labor.
Project Components include, partnership building which aims to ensure that partner groups have the capacity and commitment to provide support and assistance to the beneficiaries towards project sustainability; beneficiary/enterprise development in order to equip the beneficiaries with appropriate knowledge, attitude and skills in undertaking the livelihood activity towards project viability and success, i.e., social preparation (child rights; workers’ safety, health, productivity; environment; values); entrepreneurship (simple bookkeeping, business management) and skills training (production of goods or services).
KASAMA has been implemented to enhance livelihood undertaking of informal sector workers toward the creation of sustainable or viable businesses that will provide decent income for their families.