ILO: Key sectors’ workers ‘undervalued’ in PHL


DESPITE their considerable contributions, especially during the pandemic, workers in eight main occupational groups remain “undervalued” in the Philippines and other countries, according to a new International Labor Organization (ILO) report.

In its World Employment and Social Outlook 2023: The Value of Essential Work (WESO), the labor arm of the United Nations (UN) reported how workers in the said “key sectors” suffer poor working conditions such as low wages and long work hours.

The key sectors are health, food systems, retail, security, cleaning and sanitation, transport, manual, and technical and clerical occupations.

“The poor working conditions of key workers exacerbate employee turnover and labor shortages, jeopardizing the provision of basic services. Improvements in working conditions and greater investment in food systems, health care and other key sectors are necessary for building economic and social resilience to shocks,” ILO said in a statement.

National and local situation

The WESO noted that 29 percent of key workers are low paid, which ILO defined as receiving pay that is less than two-thirds of the hourly median wage.

Forty-six percent of key workers, particularly those from low-income countries,  also work long hours.

A considerable number or about a third of the workers are also employed through temporary contracts.

“Nearly 60 percent of key workers in low- and middle-income countries lack some form of social protection,” ILO said.

Here in the Philippines, ILO highlighted the lack of formal regulations governing home-based caregiving as well as how hospital staff were required to stay in temporary accommodation away from their families for long periods at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.

The report also zeroed in on how security guards worked long shifts and had to deal with “stressful” situations from customers during the pandemic on top of their lack of job security, minimum income security or entitlement to paid leaves.

Better resilience

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo stressed the importance of improving the working conditions of the key sector employees not only as a form of social justice, but also to boost the resilience of countries from future crises.

“A crucial first step in improving the resilience of economies and societies in this age of crisis is to strengthen the institutions of work and increase investment in key sectors,” Houngbo said in the report.

ILO said removing the workplace vulnerabilities of the workers will include ensuring that Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) systems cover all branches of economic activity; guaranteeing them safe and predictable working hours through regulation, including collective bargaining; the passage of legislated social protection; and providing them access to training so they work effectively and safely.

It also recommended reducing the wage gap between key and non-key employees, including through negotiated or statutory minimum wages.

Houngbo said the findings from the WESO report will be part of the agenda of the Global Coalition for Social Justice, to be launched by ILO later this year to “reinforce global solidarity and improve policy coherence in support of decent work and social justice.” 

Image credits: Chokchai Poomichaiya |