Prior to the specter of a U.S. recession, the Arroyo government had been making much of the historically unprecedented but unsustainable appreciation of the peso. She’s been crediting it to her fiscal managers and “good economic fundamentals.” But Labog says these economic fundamentals cannot be good if they are hurting the very people who should have been benefiting from these.
BY MARYA G. SALAMAT
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 1, February 3-9, 2008
“Gloria Arroyo’s ‘economic boom’ is not only not felt by the people, it’s actually even damaging the people’s jobs and livelihood,” KMU chair Elmer “Bong” Labog lamented last week. He said thousands of workers are now losing regular jobs and benefits they’ve struggled to gain for years as many firms are either closing shop, or terminating workers to hire more contractuals.
Ironically, said Labog, the employers’ reasons for kicking their regular workers out are the same as Arroyo’s touted signs of booming economy. Oft-repeated, said Labog, are the strong peso and falling dollar. And beneath these, he added, is “the employers’ drive for ‘greater competitiveness’ through lower wages and more ‘flexibility’ in (mis)treating the workers.”
Prior to the specter of a U.S. recession, the Arroyo government had been making much of the historically unprecedented but unsustainable appreciation of the peso. She’s been crediting it to her fiscal managers and “good economic fundamentals.”
But Labog says these economic fundamentals cannot be good if they are hurting the very people who should have been benefiting from these. “Most Filipino families are feeling the pinch of worsening poverty – hardly a boom,” said Labog.
“If there’s something soaring high in the nation’s vital stats that Gloria Arroyo should face up to, it’s the unprecedented rates of unemployment, dip in real income, belt-tightening and desperation driving our workforce to menial jobs here and abroad,” said Labog.
The militant Kilusang Mayo (KMU) has been in existence for more than twenty-six years, but it counts as members some local unions who were two to three decades old already, with some as old as five decades as a member federation, the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU), had turned 50 last year. Most of KMU’s older local unions are in either import-substituting or export-oriented companies or both.
“These companies are not your run-of-the-mill, fly-by-night companies,” said Labog. He described some of these companies as part of the top 5,000 corporations in the country. “But at present they’re either closing down or downscaling their operations more aggressively to take advantage of Arroyo’s import liberalization and cheap labor policy.”
No thanks to Arroyo’s economic fundamentals, big import-substituting firms and transnational corporations with global operational tie-ups are now finding it more profitable to just import their products from another country and dump it into the Philippine market. That, said Labog, is costing the Filipinos jobs.
He said their Drug and Food Alliance is perhaps KMU’s most severely-hit federation. Ajinomoto’s closure late last year is just one of the examples of drug and food workers’ fate.
If not outrightly closing down, some companies are either spinning off entire departments to avail of more cheaply paid workers outside of their factories here or abroad or to more plainly resort to employing contractuals working side by side with regular ones.
Last year, NXP Electronics (formerly Philips) in Laguna, gave “early retirement” to 800 of its regular employees, thus reducing the 2,200-strong workforce to just 1,600. At present, NAFLU-KMU secretary-general Tony Pascual told Bulatlat, the NXP employees’ union and NXP are having a tough time discussing in their ongoing collective bargaining negotiations the “allowable” extent of increasing contractual workers in NXP.
Asahi Glass in Pasig, meanwhile, saw its workers on the brink of a strike last December in protest of the termination of more than 20 regular employees. While 20 would seem too few compared to the number of retrenched workers in NXP and PLDT, Labog says this latest termination seems to be just a prelude to another wave of terminations. He explained that before the workers’ union in Asahi reverted to KMU a few years ago, its ranks had been almost completely decimated, from a thousand to barely 200, under the leadership of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP).
The older, relatively “veteran” companies in the business of garments and textiles are also more cruelly feeling the pinch of Arroyo’s economic boom. According to Joselito Ustarez, KMU vice president and NAFLU chairman, it seems hard to believe yet it’s happening now – the two-decade-old Laws Textiles in Taguig City seems bent on closing down and terminating its 500-strong regular workforce and more than 1,000 contractual workers.