The two newly-signed labor laws mandating tripartism and compulsory arbitration effectively weaken unions and their power of collective action to bargain for better working conditions.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Two decades and four years since his mother’s administration enhanced rather than revoked the martial law-oriented Labor Code, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino seems on the path toward continuing where the first Aquino administration left off. Yesterday (March 24), he signed two new labor laws which the progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) immediately condemned as an “attack on workers’ rights.” The labor group described the two new labor laws as Aquino’s “Trojan horses” for workers this coming Labor Day.
The first of the two laws creates the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council to be headed by the Labor Secretary. It seeks to strengthen tripartism, but according to KMU, it is actually the formal body that would “facilitate the collusion among the government, big capitalists and pro-business labor groups against workers.”
Tripartism is not new to the Philippine labor sector. Formations like this had been in prominent use especially since the administration of the late president Corazon Aquino, when representatives of employers, labor and the government were convened largely to forge “industrial peace,” which, in practice, had meant curtailing workers’ right to strike.
Since the first Aquino administration, the Philippine government had used tripartism more systematically to weaken progressive unions, avert strikes and keep wages low. Wage-setting, for example, is supposed to be done by a Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board after it was regionalized in 1989. In individual firms, tripartism took the form of labor-management councils, which, as labor groups had noted before, the Labor department increasingly used to neutralize or supplant unions.
Even under the Labor department’s two-tier wage policy, elements of tripartism are called to play as a council made up of employers and workers, facilitated by the government, is supposed to be formed to tackle whether the workers can have a wage hike and if so, how much.
Contrary to the old setup of union-management relations, where unions have legal rights to bargain for better working conditions and use their collective strength, in tripartism, unions are effectively being weakened. Workers are forced to rely on their leaders and worse, they lose their strongest bargaining chip: the power of collective action, with the supposed no-strike atmosphere.
The second labor law signed by Aquino mandates compulsory arbitration. It is “an attack on workers’ right to strike, as it adds to the already numerous requirements for holding strikes,” Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU, said in a statement.
In compulsory arbitration, labor-management disputes are mandated to be settled in negotiations by the two parties arbitrated by a Labor department official. Compulsory arbitration, like the workers’ much derided assumption of jurisdiction, ties the hands of unions from holding a strike as they would be required to abide by the decision of the Labor department official, acting as arbiter. When workers defy the labor arbiter’s orders, their strike is declared as illegal and those participating in the said strike are terminated from work.
Killing workers softly
“We condemn President Aquino for signing these bills into law. The government tries to package these laws as pro-labor, but these actually signal an intensification of violations of workers’ rights,” said Labog.
The labor group considers these laws as proof that “Aquino continues to serve big capitalists by offering cheap and repressed labor. He is trying to tighten control over workers in order to ensure big capitalists’ profits amidst crisis conditions.”
Labog said they have seen tripartism and compulsory arbitration in action, and they are not pleased with its results. “Tripartism has resulted in the crafting of more and worse anti-labor policies while compulsory arbitration has been used to delay workers’ strikes so that capitalists can maneuver to lessen the strike’s impact,” he explained.
The increased use of tripartite wage-fixing and assumption of jurisdiction orders, which prohibit strikes, had resulted in stagnating wages of Filipino workers.
The KMU said the newly signed labor laws complement the government’s refusal to hike wages by a significant amount, its implementation beginning this year of wage cuts and wage freeze through the Two-Tiered Wage System, and the legalization of contractual employment through Labor Department’s Order No. 18-A Series of 2011.
The group also pointed to the new laws’ support of the Labor Secretary’s power to assume jurisdiction over labor disputes, which in turn was made legal by Republic Act 6715 or the Herrera Law, an amendment to the country’s Labor Code passed during the Cory Administration.
“The Aquino government is launching a comprehensive attack on workers’ wages, job security and trade-union rights. It is making existing labor laws worse for the country’s workers,” Labog said.
He warned that, “Workers are angered by the government’s attempt to package its anti-labor policies as pro-labor.” He said workers know that their situation has gotten worse because of tripartism and compulsory arbitration and the Aquino government.