Labor agenda for Aquino’s first 100 days

First published in the Philippine Online Chronicles

For Filipino workers, PresidentBenigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s  first 100 days should not just be about studying labor issues and statistics. It should include doing concrete steps to reverse Arroyo’s “ugly legacy” on wages, employment and labor rights.

On the eve of her exit from power, former president Gloria Arroyo approved a P22-minimum wage increase for Metro Manila workers. This measly increase, according to various labor groups, could not even buy a kilo of rice. Wages nationwide and rising prices remain oceans apart despite the increase.

Close to 3 million Filipinos are unemployed, based on the January 2010 Labor Force Survey by theNational Statistics Office (Aquino said in the press conference after his proclamation that government labor statistics should be studied). The number of informal workers – those employed in odd jobs like street vendors – currently comprise almost half of the total number of employed.

Around 3,900 Filipinos leave the country every day to look for jobs in other countries. This figure alone highlights the scarcity and dismal quality of domestic jobs.

Ninety-eight labor leaders were slain under Arroyo’s term, according to labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). None of these cases of extra-judicial killings has been solved. Factories and workplaces, especially those with militant unions, also remain militarized.

In the run-up to President Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), various unions have assembled the Labor’s 100-day Agenda for Aquino. The agenda predictably contrasts the 100-day economic agenda pitched by big businesses for the most part.

P125 legislated nationwide wage hike

Militant labor and its allies are demanding President Aquino to certify as urgent House Bill 375 (HB 375) calling for a P125-nationwide wage hike for private sector workers, a call denied by two previous administrations in the past 11 years.

HB 375 or the P125 wage hike bill, which was filed byAnakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano, cited the wide gap between the minimum wage and the rising cost of living as one of the bases for the increase being sought.

As of July 2010, the P404 minimum wage in NCR has a shortfall of P553 against the estimated P957 family living wage (June 2010).

President Aquino did not hint at any wage increase in his inaugural address last June 30, dissatisfying workers who even trooped to his Times St. residence to bring their wage hike call days before the inauguration.

Labor groups said “it would be hard for workers to imagine Aquino’s promise of change if wages nationwide would not substantially change.”

Workers are even more united to demand for a legislated wage increase.

Creation of decent jobs

Towards the end of 2009, think-tank Ibon Foundation estimated that some 25.2 million Filipinos – more than one-fourth of the total population – are either jobless or in poor quality of work. The group’s data refers the unemployed, unpaid family workers, own-account workers and non-regular wage and salary workers combined.

Another glaring employment trend in the country is the growing informal sector, according to Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Eiler). Workers in the informal sector include street sweepers, street vendors, retailers, and other workers in odd jobs.

Eiler noted an average increase of 2.3 percent in the country’s informal sector from 2002 to 2007, with the highest increase recorded in 2004-2005. “With the onset of the global financial crisis last year, 1 million has been added to their ranks in just a year’s span (1% increase),” it added.

In his inaugural address, Aquino promised to “revive” his mother’s infrastructure-based emergency employment program to spur job generation. But various groupshas expressed apprehension to the idea, saying what Filipino workers need are stable and decent jobs.

Drop charges vs detained labor leader, pol prisoners

Detained labor leader Ka Bebot Borja

Labor leader Vincent Borja remains imprisoned for three years now on allegedly trumped-up murder charges. He was arrested on May 7, 2007 in Ormoc City by the military’s 802nd Infantry Brigade while campaigning for Bayan Muna partylist, reported.

Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), an institution advocating labor rights said the warrant of arrest issued by the military is defective, since it bore the name of a certain “Tata Borja.” The group also pointed out that the military has no arresting powers.

A Business Mirror report said Borja, along with other inmates, suffers from poor conditions inside the Tacloban City Jail. The report said 60 inmates share the 20-square-meter poorly ventilated cell.

Around 200 more political detainees remain in jail, including the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal.

In a statement, KMU said “freeing political prisoners is one step in undoing the injustice done by the Arroyo regime.”

Investigate IALAG

Aquino is also urged to investigate the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), saying it allegedly launched the filing of fabricated charges against labor leaders and advocates in Southern Tagalog, including labor lawyer Remigio Saladero, Jr.

Saladero and other activists were accused of blowing up a cell site in a Batangas town, a charge labelled by progressive groups as baseless and imaginary.

Progressive groups also blame IALAG for the filing of rebellion charges against the so-called Batasan 6 or six party-list representatives from the progressive bloc.

Formed in 2006 through Executive Order 493, IALAG was headed by former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales.

The body was dismantled in May last year amid mounting pressures from human rights groups locally and abroad.

Stop military intervention in union affairs

Despite the changing of the guard, a number of workplaces run by big businesses remain militarized, including the 20,000-hectare pineapple plantation by food giant Dole Philippines in Mindanao.

Workers said military units continue to conduct anti-union seminars inside the vast plantation, tagging local union leaders and members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Local union Amado-Kadena, an affiliate of the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU-KMU), recently filed a complaint to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) over the alleged connivance of the US-based company with military units to bust the union, a Davao Today report said.

CTUHR reported that militarization also takes place in the Gokongwei-owned Robina Farms in Rizal. The rights group said officers of the military’s 16th IBPA have been conducting anti-union seminars in the company premises.

Stop extra-judicial killings

The labor sector joins the mounting demand to stop the extra-judicial killings in the country amid the recent spate of activist killings.

Within the first ten days of the Aquino administration, three members of progressive party-list groups have been killed by alleged members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They are Fernando Baldomero (Bayan Muna), Pascual Guevarra (Anakpawis) and Mark Francisco (Alliance of Concerned Teachers).

Workers stated that the new administration’s full support to military operations does not sit well with the Aquino’s vow to go after perpetrators of extra-judicial killings.

Echoing the proposals of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, workers demanded the scrapping of Oplan Bantay Laya.

Moratorium on AJ orders

Under the Arroyo administration, some of the bloody dispersals of workers’ strikes were signalled by the release of the Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) order by the labor secretary, the most notable case of which is the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

Seven striking workers of the Cojuangco-owned Luisita were killed on Nov. 16, 2004 after combined elements of the military and police opened fire on the assembly of strikers in front of the sugar estate’s gate. At least 32 more were injured from gunshot wounds.

Six days before the dispersal, former Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas issued an AJ order on Luisita on the basis that the “quelling strike was a matter of national interest,” the series on Hacienda Luisita said.

The report likened AJ to a “declaration of Martial in a labor dispute,” as it “strips workers of their right to demonstrate and authorizes the use of law enforcement agencies.”

Workers called on new Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to refrain from issuing AJ orders in resolving labor disputes.

Scrap contractualization policies

Various labor groups have raised an alarm over the growing contractualization of the labor force, a trend seen contrary to the workers’ constitutional right to security of tenure.

In particular, workers are calling for the junking of the DOLE’sDepartment Order No. 18-2002, which it said legalized job contracting and labor-only contracting.

The department order allows companies to farm out certain jobs to contractors even as the measure will result in less secure employment status for workers. Contractual workers also cannot form or join unions.

Investigate companies with CBA moratorium

Workers are entitled to their right to collective bargaining as guaranteed by the Labor Code  of the Philippines and even by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 98. But some companies uphold moratorium on collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) instead of workers’ bargaining rights.

Highlighting this is the current labor dispute in Philippine Airlines (PAL), wherein the union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has been suspended for 11 years. It said the suspension of collective bargaining in PAL served as cue for other businesses to impose CBA moratorium.

According to a Bulatlat report, PAL CEO and tycoon Lucio Tan imposed the 10-year CBA moratorium in 1999 to supposedly avert greater company losses. The moratorium was extended for another year under the same claim of losses, aside from the company’s planned spin-off of three departments that will lay off around 3,000 employees.

Promote trade unionism

As a general call, the labor sector urges the administration to promote trade unionism in the country, which dealt with roadblocks ranging from contractualization to killings of active union leaders during the past years.

Latest estimates put the number of unionized workers at only 2 million. Only 211,000 of these are covered with “effective unionism,” or those covered with CBAs.

Whether President Aquino will heed these demands in his first 100 days or not, the public will know in the coming days. In the meantime, an agenda has been laid out, serving as a measure of how Aquino would fare on labor.

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