“Something strange is happening in the labor department of Region 7,” a group of priests noted recently. In a petition, a nationwide group of priests presented to President Benigno Aquino III and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz last week a “demand” for “investigations” into the reported anti-labor acts being committed by the employers of the Visayan Electric Company (VECO) in Cebu City.
The National Clergy Discernment Group, author of the demand letter, is a national gathering of Roman Catholic bishops and clergy from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Their group was formed in response to the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) held two decades ago, so they could reflect on their “role as socially-committed prophets in building up the Church of the Poor”.
The priests are reacting to a labor-management conflict in Cebu City between the Visayan Electric Company (VECO) and the Visayan Electric Company Employees Union (VECEU). The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has assumed jurisdiction over the dispute on November 10, 2010. In its orders, the following was stated: “that neither management nor labor should do anything that would worsen the situation.” According to the priests the workers complied.
But the management, the priests said, has continued to engage in illegal union busting activities such as: declaring that the union president is still terminated; converting the status of some union members to “confidential employees” (part of management), which automatically cancelled their union membership although they remained as tellers, lines men (rank-and-file); contracting-out regular work to other labor contractors;
interrogating and harassing union members, pressuring them to shift loyalty from the union to the management; and discouraging new regular VECO workers who are automatic union members from actively participating in union activities.
The priests stated in their demand letter to the government that the said violations of DOLE’s legal order were reported by the union in a letter to DOLE-Region 7 on December 3, 2010. But apparently the DOLE-7 did not respond at all to the formal letter. The priests added that the “DOLE did nothing about the violations of its legal order. What is going on here?” Consequently, the National Clergy Discernment Group asked for an “investigation”.
The priests said they also realized, as they reflected on the labor-management dispute, “that one of the causes of the mistreatment of labor is that it is (being) treated as a commodity, a thing to be bought as cheaply as possible.”