“Our accreditation was denied because they said we are not marginalized. But many government rank and file employees are getting low wages, even among those working in the judiciary.” – an employee of the Sandiganbayan
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Government employees are asking the Commission on Elections to reconsider its decision denying accreditation to their party-list group, saying that they need representation in the House of Representatives as no law has been passed protecting the rights and welfare of workers in the public sector.
In a press conference, Elvira Prudencio, an employee of the Department of Labor and Employment and president of their union, which is affiliated with Courage, held out a pin distributed by the Civil Service Commission.
“It says here that government employees are heroes. But it seems that we need to die out of hunger first before we become one,” she said.
Prudencio reminded the public that workers from both private and public sectors should be “accorded with decent living wage.” However, she said, many rank and file employees do not receive a decent wage. They, she said, in fact, frequently have to resort to London or “loan dun” (“loan here and there”).
“Laws are needed (to promote our welfare). But who will push for it?” Prudencio asked.
Courage, a confederation of government unions, was established in 1986. It has long pushed for the economic and political rights of workers in the public sector. In 2008, the confederation established Courage Government Employees Partylist but was not recognized by Comelec. In its decision, Comelec said it has insufficient constituents in the country. Courage sought accreditation again for the coming 2013 elections but was again denied by Comelec.
Courage Government Employees Partylist aims to serve about 1.4 million active government employees. It also represents “job order employees,” contractual workers and even those who are already retired.
But in the resolution of the second division of the Commission on Elections, it said government employees, whether employed or retired, are not among the marginalized and underrepresented, as stipulated in the law, adding that the “it demonstrates the clear intent of the law that not all sectors can be represented under the partylist system.”
“The Commission is of the opinion that the sector that Courage seeks to represent is not marginalized and is already overly-represented. The problems that Courage proposes to resolve in case it is able to obtain a seat in the House of Representatives such as those pertaining to salaries, wages and benefits of the presently employed and retired rank and file employees are already addressed by the different departments or branches of the government,” the Comelec’s decision read.
The decision also stipulates that Courage also “failed to present its track record” as required. “There is nothing in the petition that would show that Courage has a track record showing that it really represents and seeks to uplift the presently employed and retired rank and file government employees.”
No support from gov’t agencies
Contrary to the Comelec’s decision, government employees said heads of their agencies are not supporting their demands. In most cases, they said, government workers have to contend with the heads of their agencies to assert their rights to organize a union, receive a decent salary and benefits, among others.
“Instead of defending us, it is the management themselves who are removing our hard-earned benefits,” Ramir Corcolon, secretary general of Water System Employees Response, a union of government workers in water districts affiliated with Courage.
Roughly two months ago, rank and file employees of the Metro Manila Development Authority were struggling against the management for the release of their Collective Negotiation Agreement signing bonus. Employees, through its union, found out that the agency has millions of pesos of savings deposited in three different bank accounts. The General Appropriations Act provides that savings of government agencies should be used primarily to fund the benefits of its employees.
Employees were in a series of negotiations with the officials of the MMDA. Last Aug. 28, employees, mostly street sweepers and traffic enforcers, tried to block EDSA to force the management to heed their demands.
Workers of Intramuros Administration, on the other hand, did not only suffer from non-payment of their benefits but worse, they lost their jobs. Morie Azura said, in a Courage press conference, that after working as a casual employee for the Intramuros Administration for 28 years, they were downgraded to ”job orders,” meaning that they are only going to be hired for short or even daily contracts.
“For four years now, we do not have work. But we continue to struggle for our rights. It was Courage who guided us in our struggle. It hurts to find out that they think we are not marginalized,” Azura said.
Workers from local government offices said they are further marginalized under the Salary Standardization Law 3 because their salary tranches are delayed by six months.
“There are even workers in some local governments who have not yet received their second tranche,” Erwin Lanuza, an employee of the Quezon City local government, said.
“Our accreditation was denied because they said we are not marginalized. But many government rank and file employees are getting low wages, even among those working in the judiciary. Most are only getting $220 a month,” Mar Aguilar, an employee of Sandiganbayan and convener of Wage Fight.
Aguilar said the Comelec needs to do just simple mathematical calculations to know that such low wage would not be enough to support a family. He belied that the heads of their respective agencies would look into their situation.
“In fact, they are implementing rationalization programs to cut spending,” Aguilar said.
In Sandiganbayan, he added, their officials have not yet looked into the rank and file employees’ Collective Negotiation Agreement.
Look into palace-backed party-list groups
Courage, during its press conference, said there is a big difference between the rank and file employees they represent and the government officials who will run under partylist groups in 2013.
Instead of not recognizing rank and file government employees, Courage urged Comelec to disqualify party-list groups that are being backed by top government officials. “They are only representing themselves,” Aguilar said. He proudly added that there are no “millionaires” among their ranks because “Courage remains as the last resort of government employees whenever their rights are not being recognized.”
Santi Dasmariñas, vice president of Courage, said party-list groups such as Akbayan and Black and White Movement should be disqualified to run in the coming elections because they are now occupying top government positions.
This include Akbayan’s Commission of Human Rights chair Etta Rosales, GSIS board member Mario Aguja, National Anti-Poverty Commission chair Joel Rocamora, presidential adviser on political affairs Ronald Llamas and Black and White Movement’s now presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Social Welfare secretary Dinky Soliman, Budget secretary Butch Abad and Ging Deles, president’s adviser on peace process.
“It is a grave injustice if the Comelec will not disqualify Akbayan and Black and White and continue to deny Courage. How can government officials be more marginalized than the employees who are virtually living in debt and who can barely make it to the next day with their starvation pay,” Dasmariñas said, “We appeal to the Comelec en banc to correct this injustice now.”