The Kilusang Mayo Uno said the “assumption of jurisdiction” order issued by the labor secretary has been abused and has been used in many instances to break up strikes, often violently, as what happened in Hacienda Luisita in 2004.
MANILA — Five years after the “massacre of striking millworkers, farmers and farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita, the progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement) once again urged to clip the power of the Labor secretary to issue Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) orders. Experiences show AJ orders have only served as license for the military to kill and maim workers and frustrate their legitimate struggles, KMU said in a statement.
The case of Hacienda Luisita workers is a example of why the AJ should be scrapped, said the KMU. Amid the widely supported strike of workers in Hacienda Luisita in November 2004, then labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas assumed jurisdiction of the dispute. In the process, the government directly intervened to crush the workers’ democratic exercise by deploying military troops to the strike area.
Assumption of jurisdiction is often resorted to by the labor department to intervene during a strike, citing national interest. Once it is imposed, the strike could be deemed illegal, especially if the workers do not go back to work.
On Nov. 16, 2004, the military opened fire on the striking farmers and farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita, immediately killing seven people and wounding several others. In the months that followed, more workers and advocates were summarily killed.
“What happened in Hacienda Luisita clearly shows what AJ does to a workers’ strike. The AJ served as license to massacre strikers. It has killed workers, subdued their struggles for just demands. It should be scrapped immediately,” said Joselito “Lito” Ustarez, KMU executive vice-president.
Aside from its being a fatal weapon against the workers’ democratic right to strike, the AJ has also served as weapon against the workers’ just economic demands. “Holding a strike is the workers’ most potent weapon in fighting for their economic demands – for a living wage and just benefits, for example. But employers, with much helping from the government, just want us to swallow things as they stand,” Ustarez said.
Years of workers’ bitter experiences showed that AJ has been the government’s tool in breaking up strikes and punishing the workers with stiff penalties for having resorted to this democratic exercise.
“If workers disobeyed the return to work order accompanying AJ, their employers can sue them for illegal strike, then lay off those it considers as especially undesirable,” Ustarez explained.
The said power of the labor secretary and the president to issue AJ orders was first inserted into the Philippine Labor Code by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and subsequently sharpened by former President Cory Aquino through the infamous Herrera Law which revised the Labor Code in 1989.
Now Article 263 (g) of the Labor Code states that the DOLE secretary has power to assume jurisdiction in industrial strikes considered as indispensable to the national interest. But experiences showed that succeeding DOLE secretaries have indiscriminately used — and abused — this power.
“Looking at the labor disputes imposed with AJ orders, it is clear this power has been thoroughly abused,” Ustarez said.
He cited examples from big mall chains such as SM to small retail stores such as Liana’s, to little known fish sauce and noodle factories that cannot be really considered as “indispensible to the national interest” yet were imposed with AJ every time the situation of the workers urged them to call for a strike.
At the conclusion of the High-Level Mission of the International Labor Organization last September, a member of the investigating team, Karen Curtis, told the media that AJ has been the subject of their long-standing talks with the Philippine government, as AJ must not be “used in limiting way” against the workers’ right to strike.
In the Philippines, labor secretaries have blithely used AJ even before a strike is launched. “There were cases where an AJ had been imposed after the union and management deadlocked in their collective bargaining negotiations. There were cases when AJ was imposed right after the workers had filed a notice of strike.”
It has also been rumored that the AJ can be bought at the “right price and with the right sponsors,” Ustarez said. “That is possible. After all, it is no secret that you can get anything from the Arroyo government if you pay bribe at the right price.”
To uphold all workers’ democratic right to hold a strike and advance their legitimate economic demands, the KMU appealed to all labor organizations of whatever stripe and to the general public to push for the scrapping of AJ soon. At the very least, the labor center said it could help reduce the conditions for corrupting government officials such as the labor secretary. (Bulatlat.com)