By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Aquino administration, like its predecessors, has no right to organize so-called workers and employee policy meetings and project itself as pro-union when it quite clearly isn’t.
This was the declaration of members of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) as they held a picket in front of the Manila Hotel in Roxas Boulevard Manila on August 31. The group protested against the National Workers Congress (NWC) sponsored by the The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Employees Association, the Civil Service Commission, and the Public Sector Labor-Management Council (PSLMC).
Courage denounced the activity as a sham, saying that even the congress’ theme “Working in Government with Pride and Dignity” was a lie. Courage president Ferdinand Gaite said the PWC was an activity being held by the government and its employee-management agencies with the intent of weakening and dividing government employees so that they would not be able to fight for their just rights, salaries and benefits. All of Courage’s affiliated unions and associations boycotted the NWC.
“In the relationship between the government and its rank and file employees, the government takes the role of management. It goes against logic and the Philippine constitution itself for the government to organize worker activities: it is expressly stated in the law that workers and employees have a right to self-organization. There is the basic understanding that the interest of the government as management goes against that of its employees when it comes to basic economic and political rights. The NWC is being projected as a pro-employee activity when in fact it is meant as an attack against the rights of state workers,” he said.
Gaite explained that there are legal bases for the rights of public sector employees to self-organization; among them certain provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution ensuring the right of the people including employees both in the private and public sectors to form unions, associations or societies; to collective bargaining and negotiations; to peaceful concerted activities. Such provisions are found in Section 8, Article III (Bill of Rights); Section 2 (5), Article IX-B (Constitutional Commissions); and Section 3 (2), Article XIII (Social Justice and Human Rights).In the meantime, Executive Order No. 180 issued on June 1, 1987 provides the guidelines for the exercise of the right to organize of government employees.
“But the CSC and the PSLMC twisted the meaning of public sector unionism — it’s a government agency building unions, not employees themselves establishing their organizations that will genuinely fight for and defend their economic rights,” he argued.
Front for government’s attacks against state workers
Gaite said that while the organizers and the proponents of the NWC led by the PSLMC say that they are working with the Aquino government to help improve the lives of government employees, the truth is the exact opposite.
“The PSLMC and its brainchild the NWC are both working against the welfare of government employees. The PSLMC was formed by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the CSC, the Department of Finance (DOF), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). There is no doubt that these agencies have put their heads together to ensure that the PSLMC will not come out with any resolution or decision that goes against the policy of the government to keep the salaries and benefits of state workers pegged to the floor; or to ensure that the job security of government employees is protected against the wave of privatization, down-sizing and corporatization of GOCCs,” Gaite said.
“Besides, it’s not like rank and file employees are the ones attending the NWC and similar activities of the PSLMC. In most cases, it’s the heads of departments, bureaus and agencies of government that attend them, along with the labor bureaucrats and the heads of yellow and government unions, among them the Confederation of Independent Unions (CIU-Akbayan), the Philippine Government Employees Union (PGEA) under the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and the PSLINK-Partido Manggawa,” he added.
According to a write-up by the Philippine Information Agency, among the topics presented during the NWC are the matters concerning the Performance Evaluation System, Government Social Insurance System (GSIS) benefits, housing programs, and the Salary Standardization Law. The election of the sectoral representatives of the PSLMC was also held, with government associations or unions with registered collective negotiation agreement (CNA) being allowed three votes, accredited unions with two votes, and registered unions with one vote.
Watering down the salary hike fight with SSL 4
“It is not a coincidence that these are the very same issues that Courage and its 220-member unions all over the country have been campaigning actively on. We have long been calling for a P6,000 ($143) across-the-board salary increase and transparency in the workings of the GSIS and where its funds are being used. We also continue to expose how the government has used the SSL to nail salaries to the floor by giving state workers salary increases in pathetically small increments annually for three years. Now the government is pushing for the implementation of a SSL4 — another attack against us and our just demand for a P6,000 ($143) salary hike,” he said.
The labor leader said it was obvious that one of the main agenda of the NWC was to gather support for the SSL4. Gaite said that at first glance, it appears that the SSL4 will establish the minimum monthly salary for public servants at P15,000 ($357) , but close scrutiny will reveal that the increase is not actually one.
“The SSL looks like it has considered and even incorporated Courage’s demand for a P6,000 ($143) salary hike, but again the increase will be spread out over a three-year period. It’s essentially a wage freeze,” he said.
Courage has also raised its objections against the DBM’s plan to replace the CNA Incentive with the Productivity Based Bonus (PBB).
Courage vice-president and president of the National Federation of Employees Association of the Department of Agriculture (Nafeda) Santi Dasmarinas sald the Aquino government through the DBM has no right to meddle with the CNA benefits of state employees.
“The CNA benefits and incentives are the fruits of our labor and the result of our struggles at the negotiating table and union-management bargaining sessions. The Aquino government has already begun cutting our benefits by putting a cap on our CNA incentives, now it wants to wipe all of them away. The Productivity Enhancement Incentive also went down from P10,000 ($238) to P5,000 ($119) ; now the government wants us to accept a wage freeze? It’s an outrage,” he said.
“This sham congress is nothing but a venue where the government attempts to legitimize illegal, unconstitutional and virulently anti-state worker ploys,” Dasmarinas said.
Finally, Gaite also expressed disgust over the NWC registration fee of P3,500 ($83) per delegate. While the PSLMC tried to justify the exorbitant fee by saying that it is exempted from the National Budget Circular (NBC) No. 486, (pertaining to the cost of participation of government officials and employees in conventions, seminars, conferences, symposia and similar non-training gatherings sponsored by non-government organizations or private institutions), the labor leader said P3,500 ($83) is a lot of money considering that the event was only for one day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m..
“The CSC and the PSLMC insist on holding their annual, so-called worker-activities in posh venues like the Manila Hotel and the SMX Convention Center. It’s a slap and an insult against all government employees who continue to struggle against low salaries and unreleased benefits,” he said.