It’s about social justice, stupid

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The mounting clamor for a significant wage increase has pushed the President to demonstrate his mastery of economic theories. The lingering issue, on the contrary, has also exposed that he does not know anything about social justice.

Prices of almost everything – from toothpaste to gasoline – are soaring at unprecedented levels. A yawning gap between meager wages and the cost of living continues to widen. His people are starving – actually more and more of them based on the latest hunger survey by the Social Weather Station. Prevailing average wages in the country are actually lower than the highest minimum wage based on government data.

In the face of all these, what statement could be more heartless than pegging an inflation benchmark as precondition for raising wages? Surely, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III impressed his neoliberal mentors and foreign investors with that economic hao-tsao dressed as economic doctrine.

Equally skilled at delivering the businesses’ line against significant wage hike is the three-headed mouthpiece at the Palace. Somehow, it surprises me to hear presidential spokespersons Ricky Carandang, Edwin Lacierda and Herminio Coloma talk about inflationary pressures with the wisdom and tone of mainstream economists. On second thoughts though, it isn’t that hard for presidential spokespersons to imbibe corporate logic with the array of bourgeois compradors and business executives lining key government positions.

But I would say hearing Manolo Quezon speak about wage-price correlation would be too much, okay?

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Capitalists enjoy the summer with OJTs

At a steak and grill restaurant at SM North EDSA, on-the-job-trainees (OJTs) serve your tender steak, mop the floor, and present the bill for eight to nine hours without any pay. Without a doubt, the owner is all smiles this summer as labor costs are drastically cut, thanks to colleges and universities which allowed their students to be “de-virginized” in terms of labor exploitation.

Come to think of it: suppose the restaurant, Kangaroo Jack, pays regular employees the P404 minimum wage, and now taps 10 OJTs without any contractual obligation in terms of compensation, the employer saves P121,200 at the very least. Or to put it in another way, that could be almost 900 steak meals worth P135 sold in a breeze.

We can presume that this scheme is also rampant in other companies especially during this season of OJTs. Capitalists are maximizing the abudance of prospective OJTs to reduce costs and boost profits. In fact, companies are actively advertising OJT positions without necessarily providing the specific job description . Take for instance Unilever, Wipro BPO Philippines, and Fujitsu Ten. Of course, these companies would not declare that OJTs are bound for unpaid work.

Isn’t this the height of labor exploitation, when one works a tiring routine for nothing but so called “OJT experience”? Ironically, this OJT experience is packaged by the government and academe as requirement for graduation — which is in turn the starting point of perpetual exploitation.

What does the law say about OJTs? Unfortunately, the Labor Code provides leeway for the hiring of OJTs without compensation:

ART. 72. Apprentices without compensation. – The Secretary of Labor and Employment may authorize the hiring of apprentices without compensation whose training on the job is required by the school or training program curriculum or as requisite for graduation or board examination.

Certainly, eating in such sites of OJT exploitation leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Beyond word wars: the struggle for substantial wage hike

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Militants prepare a huge streamer bearing the call for higher wages and lower prices (Photo by KMU)

For mainstream economists and policymakers, the issue of wage increase is more like an annual mathematical problem made complex by economic theories. For Filipino workers, it is a struggle for survival.

As prices of basic commodities and oil products continue to soar, progressive labor groups have stepped up their demand to the Aquino government for a substantial wage hike as they vowed to vent their anger in street protests in the coming days.

Labor organizations like the trade union center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the “Unity for P125” alliance are one in calling for a legislated P125 wage increase for private sector workers.

“We reiterate our view that what the Filipino workers and people need right now is a substantial wage increase. One form of such an increase is contained in House Bill 375 filed by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael V. Mariano which seeks to legislate a P125 across-the-board wage increase nationwide,” KMU said in its statement posted in its website.

HB 375 has so far been discussed only once at the committee level since the opening of the 15th Congress last year.

For its part, the “Unity for P125” alliance said in a report that “the massive erosion of jobs and livelihoods of the people and the shrinking value of wages today are enough reasons why the government should implement a P125 wage increase now.”

State employees under the Wage Fight! Alliance meanwhile are pushing for a P6,000 increase in their minimum pay in light of surging commodity prices, while linking arms with private sector workers who also demand wage increase.

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From grad rites to unemployment cliff

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Truth be told, bleak employment prospects do not match the high hopes of around half a million new graduates who are set to enter the labor force this year.

Based on the government’s job database as of February, there are only around 62,156 job vacancies in the country and abroad awaiting new graduates. Meanwhile, job portals and have domestic and foreign job offerings of 11,367 and 34,334 respectively. Assuming the three job listings are mutually exclusive, there are only 107,000 jobs awaiting Batch 2011.

The estimated number of job vacancies is dwarfed by the estimated 500,000 new graduates looking for work, plus the 544,000 old graduates who are unemployed based on the October 2010 Labor Force Survey. Based on these figures, only 1 out of 10 old and new graduates may find work this summer.












The situation gets even worse as thousands of overseas Filipino workers from the Middle East and other regions return home without jobs. Repatriated OFWs from strife-torn Libya alone number at around 9,000 as of March according to DOLE. So far, the government has only pledged livelihood assistance to those who are interested aside from redeployment of a handful of displaced workers.

Despite this glaring employment problem, the labor department is optimistic as it said that the current job vacancies “boost the chance of jobseekers, together with graduating college students, to land employment this summer.”

It appears though that the government needs to take a second look at its own employment statistics.

Last January, the country’s unemployment rate grew to 7.4 percent as nearly 100,000 more Filipinos were added to the army of unemployed. Half of the estimated 2.9 million unemployed were in the age group of 15-24, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO). This indicates that most of the country’s graduates are joining the unemployed year-on-year.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raymond “Mong” Palatino urged the President to improve the government’s job plan for the new graduates more than launching seminars and career guidance.

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P-Noy’s oil subsidy: bonanza for the Big Three

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Let’s call it a pre-April fool’s prank.

In a vain attempt to appease the nationwide protestagainst rising oil prices last March 31, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino announced on the same day that he has approved an executive order which allegedly grants fuel subsidies to public utility vehicles (PUVs). He said the government would issue “smart cards” to jeepney and tricycle drivers who are franchise holders so that they could avail of the P3 per liter subsidy.

The President made the announcement before the media during the load-out ceremony of an industrial construction company in Batangas.

So where’s the executive order by the way?

Hours after the President’s pronouncement, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang clarified that there was no final executive order yet on fuel subsidies.

“The executive order has not been signed yet. The details are still being worked out,” Carandang said in his statement to media outfits.

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April Fools’ Day headline: ‘Strike fizzles in Metro’

















On this year’s April Fools’ Day, a major broadsheet coincidentally came up with a misleading headline.

Today’s Philippine Daily Inquirer’s (PDI) banner headline, “Strike fizzles in Metro,” implies two related assumptions: 1) that there was a transport strike in Metro Manila 2) that the alleged strike fizzled. It appears though that the national daily conjured a transport strike in Metro Manila when there was actually none. What actually transpired yesterday (March 31) was a transport caravan in Metro Manila. In fact, the writer of the story referred to the protest as “transport caravan.”

PDI was well-aware that militant drivers and operators based in Manila would be staging a transport caravan and not a strike. Proof? PDI’s previous stories described the protest in Metro Manila as “transport caravan,” so why insist an imaginary “transport strike” in the metro at the last minute?

MMDA braces for ‘transport caravan’ (March 29, 2011)

700-strong Piston caravan heads to Mendiola —PNP spokesman (March 31, 2011)

Transport caravan peaceful so far—NCRPO (March 31, 2011)

And so, the paper cannot justify today’s headline as a journalistic boo-boo — it could really be deliberate, aimed at discrediting the transport protest. Don’t tell us the copyeditor (or whoever gave the final head) did not read the story.

The banner headline also carries a latent bias: measuring transport protests in terms of transport paralysis – which the general riding public obviously do not like. Why not change the yardstick into drivers/ operators who participated, Palace response due to protests?

Well sadly, we cannot expect much from the mainstream media organizations which have their inherent biases (even though they insist in being objective, accurate, etc. — this deserves a separate entry). But at the very least, they must try to be a beacon of truth on April Fools’ Day, when everyone else is playing with lies.


For a full report on the extent and issues raised during the nationwide protest against oil price hikes, read Bulatlat’s Transport Caravan and Transport Strikes, “Just For Starters”