Why Workers Abhor Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) orders

For many years now, ILO supervisory bodies have criticized as “too broad” the power of the Philippine labor secretary to assume jurisdiction over a labor dispute that is “likely to affect the national interest.” This power is clearly stated in the Philippine Labor Code’s Article 263. It was first put there by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and it was amended in 1989, by the Cory Aquino regime in response to pressures from workers.

But according to Remigio Saladero, the chief legal counsel of KMU, the 1989 amendments worsened the matter. It only “gave AJ sharper fangs,” he said. Saladero explained that the amendments broadened the power of the labor secretary to decide which labor disputes will affect the national interest and thus deserve an AJ order. These also gave the government a broader arsenal of weapons with which to enforce an AJ order.

An AJ order is now usually accompanied by a return to work order, with the police or military on call to force the workers to do so. It also serves as a license for employers to lay off workers who defy the order — and criminally charge them, too. These amendments to the labor code were initiated by Ernesto Herrera of the moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Strike as a Basic Workers’ Right

“Strike is one of the basic trade union rights workers should be able to enjoy,” said Karen Curtis, member of the first ILO High-Level Mission that visited the Philippines last September to investigate trade union rights repression in the country. “AJ should not be used in a limiting way,” she said.

For the ILO, “strike action may be banned or limited only in the public service or essential services in the strict sense of the term, i.e. those whose interruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.”

But in the Philippines, observed Attorney Remigio Saladero, “AJ has been abused to frustrate strikes” even in firms where work stoppages are unlikely to harm the national interest — for instance, in firms manufacturing fish sauces or engaged in burial services.

If there are lesser strikes these days, it is not because of “improved industrial peace” as the succeeding labor secretaries from Sto. Tomas to Arturo Brion and now Marianito Roque have boasted. Rather, according to Saladero, it could only be ascribed to the active issuances of assumption of jurisdiction orders and similar legal constraints against workers’ protests, with its usual accompaniments of return to work orders, armed troops to enforce the order, and other threats.

It has been two decades now since the Labor Code was amended and anti-strike injunctions such as AJ were sharpened. It has been years since the ILO said they are “watching with interest” the proposals to amend AJ and use it only on “essential services,” in the “strictest meaning of the term.”

Today the damage to the labor front and to their living wage and condition has been done – despite the Constitution enshrining the workers’ rights to strike and to living wage, fewer labor restiveness now developed into strikes. With labor’s suppressed right to strike and to protest, the Filipinos real wages have considerably dropped as a result. (See table below)



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