In this fast changing world brought about by globalization, the workers in the Philippine sugarcane industry, those that toil under the heat of the sun to produce sugar, are not to be left behind.

The estimated 62,000 farmers and 600,000 sugar workers in the country, however, need to be prepared with the impending reduction to five percent tariff on imported sugar by 2015. This condition is linked with the establishment of Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) Economic Community.

“Take concerted action to address the employability preparedness of sugar workers to this tariff reduction,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz remarked. “It is necessary  that  we  develop an action plan to  boost the  sugarcane industry’s workers’ productivity and competitiveness in world sugar production.  We should ensure that the industry would have the necessary skilled workforceand be able to develop a capacity building program that will transform farmers or farm workers to agri-entrepreneurs or “agri-preneurs”.

Recognizing the need to prepare for the challenges of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 and the concerns to promote social protection for vulnerable workers, the Department of Labor and Employment – Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns (DOLE-BWSC) held an orientation, assessment-planning, and policy consultation on the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) for workers in the sugarcane industry last March 10-17, 2014 at the Sugar Workers’ Development Center in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.

The theme "Shaping our Actions toward Decent Work for Sugar Workers" resonates the initiatives to establish decent work in the sugarcane industry in anticipation to the tariff reduction.

The BWSC also presented to the participants the draft framework on Human Resource Development Convergence Program which covers strategic interventions on education, technical skills, capacity building, health and livelihood.  Several policies affecting migratory sugar workers or sacadas were also discussed. This was designed to strengthen protective measures to alleviate their working conditions. The proposed legislative measure of Honorable Congresswoman Lucy Torres-Gomez under House Bill No. 2327 (An Act Further Strengthening the SAP in the Sugar Industry, Amending for this Purpose Certain Provisions of RA 6982) was likewise tackled.

A total of 55 participants consisting of senior and new SAP officers from DOLE regional offices and other representatives from the Bureau of Labor Relations, Bureau of Local Employment and National Wages and Productivity Commission actively participated in deliberations of various policy proposals. Training methodologies such as workshops, field work and immersion were adapted to further develop the capacity of SAP officers in SAP  implementation.

The activities were divided into four parts:  1) Orientation on SAP Concepts, Processes and Outcomes; 2) Assessment and Planning Workshop; 3) Policy Consultation; 4) Field Visits/Immersion.

In his opening remarks, Director Ponciano Ligutom of DOLE Region 6 encouraged the SAP officers  to speak with one voice and one system. He recognized the need to have a clear inter-regional cooperation in relation to the issues of sacada, child-labor and other labor and employment concerns confronting the sugar industry.

Undersecretary Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III, head of the Workers Welfare and Social Protection Cluster also graced the event and called for envisioning a desirable condition of workers through accurate framing of strategic issues to arrive at an ideal solution for problems affecting sugar workers.

The Social Amelioration Program was first introduced in the country through P.D. 621 in 1974, mandating the collection of a lien for every picul of raw sugar milled  to benefit sugar workers and their families. The program was strengthened further under the Republic Act 6982 in 1991 which aimed to augment the income, provide livelihood opportunities and promote the welfare of the sugar workers.

During the activity, the documentary film of J.Abello entitled Pureza: the Story of Negros Sugar was featured depicting the historical saga of the sugar industry in Negros and  the lives of  sugar workers. One of its catch phrase reads a well-crafted and haunting line showing why the sugar industry needs considerable attention: “When the sugar industry sneezes, the island catches  colds.”

In her message, BWSC Director Ahmma Charisma Lobrin-Satumba remarked that this should not always be the case, as under the present Administration, the thrust is for the country to achieve inclusive growth and for the workers to ultimately attain the condition of decent and productive work.

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