Despite the negative effects brought about by COVID-19, employees and workers experience positive impact.

Employees and employees we surveyed felt that the top negative impacts of COVID-19 are decrease in income (35.4%), difficulty in buying necessities (32.3%) and depression and anxiety (19.2%).

Despite these, they also reported positive effects brought about by the pandemic. Because of limited movement, almost half (49.2%) reported that they now have more time to for their families. Some (24.9) were able to pursue their hobbies like cooking, gardening, sewing, while others (22.6%) were able to find new ways of generating other sources of income.

3 out of the 5 top concerns of workers and employees are health-related.

The top concern of employees and workers is contracting the virus that would lead to increase in the number of COVID + people (3rd in rank) and consequently impacting on the capacity of the health care system to respond (5th in rank).

Financial insecurity due to job loss is their second most pressing concern while economic recession is ranked 4th.

Based on focus group discussions with employees and workers, their ability to work is dependent on their health, and thus they fear that they or their family members will test COVID-19 positive.

Most employees and workers need financial measures to protect their liquidity and survive this pandemic.

The top three assistance that workers and employees need are (1) payroll subsidy, (2) deferment of utility bills, and (3) low interest loans. All of these measures can help them extend the amount of money that they have and survive the pandemic.

Unfortunately, no one among the employees we surveyed was able to receive assistance through the Department of Labor and Employment’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (DOLE-CAMP). However, almost everyone (90%) received assistance from the City Government of Tagbilaran. The remaining 10% are those that are not qualified (e.g. they are not residents of the city).

DOLE CAMP has been reported to be grossly insufficient to meet the needs of qualified employees/workers. Based on DOLE’s records, only 99 businesses out of the 16,529 registered businesses in Tagbilaran had workers who benefitted from the program.

Workers report that they now have more time to spend with their families. However, depression and anxiety start to affect a few.

Workers we surveyed identified a few positive effects of the pandemic. Some (45%) said they now have more time to spend with their family, while a few others said they are now able to pursue their hobbies (25%), engage in income-generating activities (23%), and connect with friends (21%).

However, the pandemic also start to impact on workers’ psycho-social and emotional health. A few workers report feelings of anxiety (35%) and depression (19%), increased quarrels at home (5$), and having bad dreams (4%).

Workers in the tourism sector were hit the hardest while government employees were the least affected.

4 out of 10 workers we surveyed experienced a significant decrease in income while 2 out of 10 workers lost jobs temporarily or permanently.

Among the sectors, 9 out of 10 workers in the tourism sector felt the negative impact of COVID 19 on their income, work, or source of livelihood. This is followed by those working in the service sector where 5 out of 10 reported the same.

Only those working in the government were not affected by COVID-19 as most receive their salaries even with reduced working hours.

It is important to note here, that for every one person who lost his/her job, at least 3 other people are affected. Most employees are supporting two other people besides themselves.

5,154 jobs from the service sector were temporarily or permanently lost due to COVID-19.

As earlier reported in the case of businesses, the service sector is the worst hit, even for employees or workers. Across Tagbilaran City’s 15 barangays, those working in the service sector are the ones most affected by the pandemic. 5,154 jobs is equivalent to 73% of total jobs lost when Enhanced Community Quarantine was imposed in the city.

Those working in the transport sector also lost jobs. At least 846 workers in the sector (from drivers of public utility vehicles to company drivers and tourist van operators) lost their main source of income because of mobility restrictions.

How many of these jobs will be able to recover? Another rapid job loss survey is needed to determine this. If you want to support this, please let us know.

Containing the spread of COVID-19 remains the top concern of businesses.

Businesses we surveyed asks the Tagbilaran City Government to prioritize the following in its COVID-19 response:

1. containing the spread of the virus

2. preparing the health care system

3. providing timely and accurate information on COVID-19

This finding becomes increasingly relevant with the surge of cases in Tagbilaran city in the last few days as shown below:

Businesses value health measures over and above financial measures.

Business establishments we surveyed said that they needed tax waivers, low interest credit lines or credit guarantees. They also said they need temporary unemployment programs to help displaced workers.

However, when asked to choose from a list of health and financial measures, businesses value health measures more. This includes the supply of personal protective equipments (PPEs), information on the spread and transmission of the virus, and clarity on the measures to control the health crisis.

Tricycle drivers are one of those hit the hardest.

I volunteered to conduct a city-wide research on the socio-economic impacts of COVID 19 to the city of Tagbilaran. My team at Step Up Consulting just felt that if we want to chart a better future post-pandemic, we need to base our plans, projects, and even our day-to-day decisions on data. And we have to be part of or contribute to the solution however way we can.    I have been working on data for development for six years now and I strongly advocate for evidenced-based policy or programming, especially in a context where some of our leaders base their decisions on what they hear from their friends or what they see on social media.

One of the things we did, as part of the multi-methods research, was to engage in short but deep conversations with tricycle drivers – one of those severely affected by the lockdown.  For most of the people in the city, we move around using tricycles and the tricycle drivers we interact with on a daily basis have been the refuge of several commuters, rain or shine.

I thought that we can better understand the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 on Tagbilaran City residents if we ask tricycle drivers how they have been coping since the lockdown in March 2020.  Our researchers spent 107 tricycle rides of considerable distance, so they can have these short but deep conversations with 107 tricycle drivers who continued providing transport service despite the threat of COVID 19, especially when Tagbilaran recorded its first few cases in the beginning of June this year.

I write this blogpost for two reasons –

a. document what we have found out so far and communicate our research findings;  

b. and to tell you that if you have the means to do so, please support in whatever way, the different programs that are being implemented to help those that are most vulnerable

What has the pandemic done to our tricycle drivers?

1.  COVID 19 has significantly reduced their income on a daily basis.

The temporary closure of businesses and the restrictions in movement of people has greatly reduced the need for transport services.  No more incoming and outgoing tourists. Schools are closed.  No more students to ferry all throughout the day.  A great reduction in the number of workers plying the streets means reduced tryke-hailing.  Senior citizens and youth below 18 are not allowed to go out.  By force of regulation, tricycle drivers can only carry one passenger per ride. 

“Lisod kaayo, lahi ra kaayo ako kita sauna. Iguon na lang gyud maam. Isa ra akong anak pero wala na gyud matigum. Wala ko lain saligan sa trabaho daginot gyud.”

(It’s really very difficult.  The amount of income we earn now is significantly different from what we earned before. We really just have to make do with what we have. I only have one child but we really can not save.  I don’t have any other source of income so we really need to stretch what we have as much as we can.)

     2. To increase the chances of getting passengers, some start early and go home late.

As they can carry only one passenger at a time, some drivers need to rise up earlier than usual so they can get some headway and also work until night-time, hoping they can still get more passengers.  Curfew is set at 9 pm even during General Community Quarantine so some drivers stay up until 8 pm, so they still have time to go home right in time for the curfew to take effect. 

                    “Maski unsa na lang………..  Drive og sayo aron mahuman og curfew.”

                     (We do whatever is it that we can think of……..Start early and drive until curfew.)

Some of them pleaded with customers to increase the fare that they pay.  Some were successful while others were not.  Some were also thankful that some passengers who understood their situation give more.  Some drivers who were renting their tricycles were also fortunate that their lessors decreased the daily rent.      

3.       They saved on food – their biggest expense on a daily basis.

Families of tricycle drivers need to cut on food to be able to stretch financial resources. For example, so that a kilo of rice can extend for more days, they will cook porridge instead.  Several of them are thankful that the City Government of Tagbilaran through Mayor Baba Yap distributed rice so they will have to worry only of buying fish or canned goods for their “sud-an” (viand). 

The usual resort is to buy “salted” goods – they last longer and you don’t have to eat a lot.  Dried fish and “ginamos”  (fermented fish) are usually the mainstays especially on days when the cash is quite tight.  Even single tricycle drivers are experiencing hardships.  The challenges are quite tight especially for those who are supporting bigger families.

“Apike kaayo. Bugas ug sud-an ra. Lugaw lugaw panagsa.”

(Situation is quite tight.  Only rice and viand.  Sometimes just porridge.)      

     4. Their wives need to step in to increase family income and on-kind resources.

Wives of tricycle drivers need to work to help increase the family’s resource base. Some cooked viand to sell or engage in other activities as doing laundry or ironing clothes for well-off families. Others also started backyard gardening to save on buying vegetables from the market. 

Some tricycle drivers have wives that have full-time work.  But others also have wives who are sick.  Most families rely on manual labour to sustain themselves – so the more hands there are with the capacity to work, the lesser the hardship.

Reading through 107 transcripts, 107 stories of suffering and resilience, was a difficult and painful task.  It reveals that while the pandemic affects us all, it hits the most vulnerable the hardest.  It also shows us that ordinary and small things for some of us, already means life and survival for others.

So if you are living a comfortable life during this pandemic, please be thankful. If you can, please do share.  There are many charities out there, including the Diocese of Tagbilaran’s ABAG program, that are doing an excellent job to help the vulnerable.

Also, whenever possible, support local producers. Those that sell on the streets and online. We need to help others survive. So let’s buy that puto (ricecake) for our snacks, or that avocado from our neighbor.  Let’s support those who peddle fish early in the morning.  If they charge P10 more when compared to what we can get from Dao Public Market, let’s not complain.  Afterall, they bring it to our doorstep. 

And for our leaders in government, find ways by which you will be able to support the vulnerable. Stop the nonsense of making decisions that make people lose jobs and drive them to a state of economic and psychological depression.  We need to protect all jobs, formal or informal, regular or contractual.  We are all in this together.   

If you are reading this to this end, please pray with me. The night is still long. Let’s pray that all of us make it through the dawn stronger, and better.

Amen.

(Image on this page was grabbed from Wayne S. Grazio See link here.)

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