Of the 40.3 million workers who are part of the labor force in the Philippines, 19 million are wage or salary earners, only 1.7 million of whom are union members.
By PATRICIA LOURDES VIRAY
MANILA – “We will walk on a straight path; [we] will end corrupt leadership and poverty that has long pounded the majority of the Filipino people. We, Filipinos can now dream again,” said President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in his inaugural speech on June 30, 2010.
The Filipinos began to hope again when Aquino promised change. For workers, his policies promised to “improve the country’s labor relations, create employment, and uplift the workers’ participation in policy and program formulation,” said Daisy Arago, executive director of Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR).
After almost two years of assuming the presidency, the change that the President promised never materialized. For instance, the rate of unemployment during Aquino’s first year in office rose to 27.2 percent or 11.3 million Filipinos, higher than the 23.5 percent or 9.9 million recorded last November 2010, according to the Social Weather Station (SWS) March 2010 survey. The government defines “unemployed” as individuals who have not stopped looking for jobs for various reasons and this excludes Filipinos who are also jobless but have not been actively seeking work.
“The government aims to strengthen its compliance and implementation of labor rights as mandated by the Constitution,” states the Philippine Labor and Employment Plan (PLEP) in its opening paragraph.
However, attacks on union rights and worse, extrajudicial killings victimizing labor leaders continued under the current administration.
Companies continue attacks on unions
According Arago, companies have thought of “systematic and efficient ways of weakening unions.” Workers who begin organizing unions are being harassed, charged in court, and dismissed from work.
Raymund Acena, president of Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) employees’ union, was suspended and eventually fired after an alleged violation, which the union is still questioning today. The said union is a “vocal critic of HSBC’s outsourcing program, schemed to cut down wages and benefits.”
Acena had worked for HSBC for nearly five years and had been given the traditional bank-wide award as one of the model employees. He had also achieved high marks in the company’s performance ratings of its employees.
HSBC suspended him for 30 days, citing violations such as the use of company email by the secretary of the employees’ union who is not an HSBC employee. HSBC asserted that only their employees can use the company email but Acena argued that it has been “unquestioned practice” for the employees’ union to use their leaders’ email.
After the 30-day suspension, HSBC terminated Acena, banned him from entering the bank’s premises, and stripped him of his retirement pay. The union lost one of its leaders in a time when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations were about to start.
“This is an old tactic of capitalists: fabricating cases in order to terminate workers who are asserting their rights,” said Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog in a statement.
Another way of weakening unions is through contractualization. Only regular workers can join unions, thus the more contractual workers there are, the less union members.
“Contractualization endangers the workers’ right to security of tenure as it often swiftly aids busting of both established and newly-established unions. The perpetuation of contractual employment status practically prevents the workers from becoming union members under the legal framework that virtually exclude them from organizing unions.” as stated in CTUHR’s Failed: State of Workers and Human Rights in President
In 2010, media giant ABS-CBN terminated 114 International Job Market (IJM) workers, mostly union officers and members. Thirty seven news and current affairs personnel were reportedly invited to “private talks” by human resources managers of ABS-CBN in posh hotels around Metro Manila to tell them that they were fired.
The mass dismissals began in June 2010 when ABS-CBN chairman and CEO Gabby Lopez set a deadline for IJM workers to accept the network’s offer of regularization in exchange for foregoing their years of service. Lopez also threatened to fire the employees who persisted in forming a union.
The IJM Workers’ Union held a picket in front of the network’s Sgt. Esuerra gate and demanded to reinstate the dismissed employees. The network claimed that the employees were only individual contractors and were not regular employees thus, the legal battle began.
In August 2010, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldos rejected the claim of ABS-CBN that there was no employer-employee relationship between the network and the IJM workers and approved the union’s petition for certification election. The ABS-CBN management continues to defy the labor department’s order.
Of the 40.3 million workers who are part of the labor force in the Philippines, 19 million are wage or salary earners, only 1.7 million of whom are union members. This is way below half of the labor force, according to CTUHR.
Militarization of companies
“AFP’s Civil Military Operations (CMO) was expanded in the government’s IPSP (Internal Peace and Security Plan). It is being used as justification by the military to set foot and freely operate in communities or workplaces suspected and perceived to be or have potential of being influenced by communists,” said the CTUHR. “This increased military presence, as in the past, is also responsible for the increased incidents of human rights violations.”
Foreign companies build their facilities in militarized areas to be able to avail government protection. The national government provides security for investors. Special action forces are legally enabled by law to oppress workers.
In Export Processing Zones for one, said Arago, companies have layers of security to suppress the workers. “They have layers of security when there are labor disputes in their factories. Not only do they have company guards but they are also being protected by the local police, by units from the regional mobile group and special action forces.
These are all made legal under the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 where the Philippine government commits to provide security for investors.”
In February 2011, Amado-Kadena (Asosasyon sa mga Mamumuo sa Dolefil Alang sa Kalingkawasan ug Demokrasya sa Nasud, or Association of Dolefil Workers for Freedom and Democracy), the progressive union of workers of Dole Philippines (Dolefil), won in a certification election amid harassment of its members and officers by soldiers.
Kevin Davis, then a manager in Dolefil, threatened union head Jose Teruel that they would “suffer the consequences” after successfully affiliating with the progressive KMU. The Dolefil management then focused on supporting a faction union called LEAD-PH and a parallel campaign to brand Amado-Kadena as a communist group.
A commander of the military unit notorious for his anti-union activities as well as his contribution to the military’s Oplan Bantay-Laya counter-insurgency campaign was assigned to cover Dolefil and its environment.
The “consequences” mentioned by Davis were nonstop military harassments, and “framed-up” charges at work during “random inspection” of their lockers. Union officers even reported that there had been times that they were under military surveillance.
Military intervention in the activities of Amado-Kadena caught the attention of then Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chief Leila De Lima. Before leaving the CHR to become justice secretary, De Lima promised the labor sector that her “replacement (in CHR) will hold a dialogue with the Dolefil management about the reported military harassments.”
Workers unite despite of blatant attacks on unionism
Despite some companies’ efforts of busting unions, there have been success stories of union workers fighting for their rights. One good example is the case of Karnation 20.
“In May 2007, the Karnation 20 was charged with serious illegal detention by the management after launching a strike. The workers suffered nearly three years in jail where two died of severe respiratory illness due to harsh prison conditions. After months of campaigning, bail was granted in December 2009 and all the other 18 workers temporarily gained freedom in March 2010” according to CTUHR.
Despite the attacks against workers still they are continuing the fight. “The fact that companies are offering livelihood programs for workers means that workers are struggling for their rights,” said Arago.