Despite the difficulties posed to unions and workers’ organizations by the intensifying repression and contractualization, the total number of labor disputes recorded and “handled” by the labor department itself has continued to increase in 2011.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In 2011, unionists who suffered imprisonment for having launched a strike faced the threat of being jailed again if they failed to raise money for their increased bail. In the same year, strikers from another company, from the Nestlé core factory in Asia, spent the year urging the Aquino government to press Nestlé to respect and implement the Supreme Court decisions affirming the workers’ reasons for having launched a strike since 2002. The then Arroyo government and Nestlé management had just reportedly converted the façade of the factory into a “military garrison” against the strikers. In 2011, too, several fatal accidents in workplaces revealed the dangerous combination of contractualization and lack of government regulation of occupational health and safety.
And then shortly before 2011 ended, the much publicized massive retrenchment in Philippine Airlines (PAL), denounced by affected employees as PAL’s way of replacing regular workers with contractual workers, was finally implemented. It was supported by the labor secretary and President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. As the Labor Secretary assumed jurisdiction over the labor dispute months before, the workers response was dismissed as a “wildcat strike” by the DOLE and PAL management. They had the workers bodily dragged off the airport premises and summarily laid off.
In Mindanao, unionists belonging to the progressive bloc have complained for years of continuing military harassments and vilification. One such union, the Amado Kadena in Dolefil, was finally “legally” replaced by “a management union” after it reportedly bore the brunt of years of harassments and vilification.
These are just some of the recorded labor disputes that rocked the labor front in 2011, the year when employers condemned by unionists even received awards for upholding ‘industrial peace.’
And now, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz herself has continued the spirit of awarding themselves for “industrial peace” when she gave her department a pat on the back recently, saying “the industrial relations climate in 2011 is poised to become the most peaceful in the country’s history.”
The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) vehemently disputed the Labor Secretary’s claim. Instead of congratulating the labor department for the reduction of work stoppages last year, the KMU warned that it is, in fact, a bad sign for industrial relations in the country, considering the numerous ills plaguing the workers’ labor conditions.
Silence of the gagged
The KMU viewed the labor department’s self-congratulations on supposed industrial peace as just a “handiwork of its spin doctors.” “They are praising so-called peaceful methods for results that were achieved through repressive means,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU.
Baldoz has praised her department for successful arbitration and adjudication efforts. She also praised the government’s “less intervention in labor disputes” in 2011, citing the lessened number of cases assumed by the Labor Secretary.
If the number of strikes had lessened, blame that on the government’s violent repression of strikes and of its participants, the KMU said. The labor group also blamed the DOLE-supported contractualization scheme in workplaces.
“Contractualization has made it difficult for workers to form unions and launch strikes, as it enabled capitalists to easily fire workers. The Labor Secretary’s assumption of jurisdiction over labor disputes subjects workers to harsh punishment for fighting for their rights,” Labog said.
Filipino workers have also been concentrated in special economic zones which have their own, “more repressive, labor laws,” based on research conducted by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER). The KMU described these zones as “enclaves of contractualization, where capitalists and the government actively thwart the formation of unions.”
Although the incidences of strikes have dropped, Filipino workers “continue to struggle, using various forms of protests,” Labog noted. He explained that last year “witnessed a growing number of workers joining and supporting street protests.”
In fact, despite the difficulties posed to unions and workers’ organizations by the intensifying repression and contractualization, the total number of labor disputes recorded and “handled” by the labor department itself has continued to increase in 2011.
Even the labor department’s vaunted restraint in issuing assumption orders had not altered the trend begun by the past regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which issued more AJ orders than the number of recorded actual strikes every year. Baldoz’s “less government intervention” only meant three cases lower in 2011 compared to 2010.
Challenge to labor
The KMU said it is “a challenge” to Filipino workers to form more unions and launch more strikes despite the government’s “severe repression,” because unions and strikes are very much needed. Only these can counter the “attacks on workers’ wages, job security and trade-union rights.”
Labog said that labor groups like them “embrace the challenge of launching more strikes and building more unions in the coming years.” He recalled how the Filipino labor movement has suffered and overcome a similar situation of extreme repression before.
“Despite severe repression under Martial Law, workers were able to launch a strike movement in the 1980s that strengthened the trade-union movement and weakened the Marcos dictatorship,” Labog said. He hopes that, given the growing participation of more workers in various kinds of protest actions, the labor movement would soon get over the enforced “industrial peace.” #