“The right to strike cannot be separated from the right to organize. The reason why workers are organized and unionized is to collectively defend their right and through a strike they are asserting that right. Without it, organizing is futile.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – “Along with the right to organize is the right to strike.”
This is the assertion of Filipino workers from the private and public sectors as they trooped to the main office of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) in Intramuros, Manila on the global day of action for the right to strike on Feb. 18, Wednesday.
Among those who joined were: the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Toyota Motor Philippines Corp. Workers Associations (TMPCW), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), public teachers’ group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and government health workers group Alliance of Health Workers.
“February 18 has been designated by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Council as a global day of action in defense of the right to strike, which is under attack by employer groups at the International Labor Organization (ILO),” the ITUC website read.
According to an article, since 2012, the employers group – composed of big transnational corporations — in the ILO insists that ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association does not actually guarantee the workers right to strike.
This attempt to suppress the workers’ right to strike, the KMU said, is due to the global economic crisis where employers will always find a way to implement austerity measures even if it violates the very rights of workers.
“We condemn big capitalists and pro-capitalist governments who want to render the International Labor Organization inutile when it comes to upholding workers’ right to strike. They don’t want the ILO to be of any help to workers who hold strikes against the neoliberal austerity measures being implemented by pro-capitalist governments, especially in Europe, in response to the persisting global financial and economic crisis,” said KMU in a statement.
Lawyer and president of the FFW Jose Sonny Matula said the right to strike is guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution and the Labor Code. He pointed out that the right to strike is not only in the ILO convention but also in the labor laws of the countries around the world.
“The right to strike cannot be separated from the right to organize. The reason why workers are organized and unionized is to collectively defend their right and through a strike they are asserting that right. Without it, organizing is futile,” said Roger Soluta, secretary general of KMU.
Decrease of strikes in PH
The labor group also lambasted the government’s claim that there are less strikes in the country despite the worsening condition faced by Filipino workers.
“While we in the labor movement take such boasts as a challenge to increase the number of unions and strikes in the country, we condemn the Dole’s role as an accomplice in illegal dismissals which capitalists carry out against workers who try to form unions. The Dole has either provided capitalists with the names of workers who try to form unions, which capitalists use as a basis for illegally dismissing the workers, or turn a blind eye to illegal dismissals aimed at preventing workers from forming unions.”
Soluta said the Labor Secretary, as head of the Labor Department, continues to possess the power to assume jurisdiction over labor disputes, a violent weapon against workers’ right to strike.
“This power enables capitalists to issue back-to-work orders, fire workers who refuse to heed such orders, file criminal charges against such workers, and even bring the police and military to workplaces. The Hacienda Luisita massacre, which happened on November 16, 2004 and left seven people dead, is proof of the violent nature of this power.”
In the recent ITUC Global Rights Index report the Philippines ranked 5th or one of the worst countries in the world to work in. “While the legislation may spell out certain rights workers have effectively no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labor practices,” the report read.
The ITUC Global Rights Index data also showed that many countries around the world mostly violate workers right to strike.
The right to decent living
“When workers have launched strikes, it means that they are fighting for their right to a decent living,” said Robert Mendoza, secretary general of the AHW. He said the salary grade of government employees is lower than the minimum wage of the employees of the private sector.
“Private employees receive P466 ($10) per day minimum wage, which is equivalent to a monthly salary of P10,500 ($237). The government employee salary grade one is only P9,000 ($203). Through a strike, we can fight for our right to decent living because a salary increase will not be granted to us if we are not going to fight for it,” said Mendoza.
Mendoza said they are in solidarity with the working class of the world in asserting the right to strike. “Even if we are prevented from holding strikes, we still register our dissent over the inhumane treatment of government employees through lunch break protests.”
France Castro, secretary general of ACT, meanwhile said a strike is imminent because the government remains callous on their call for salary increase. She said that more than a hundred Congressmen co-authored the bill increasing the salaries of teachers and non-working personnel, but President Benigno S. Aquino chooses to disregard it.
Castro also said that even if the public sector employees are prohibited from staging strikes, the ACT-National Capital Region union included their right to strike in their recently signed Collective Negotiation Agreement (CNA). “Although this right is guaranteed by the Constitution, the Department of Education refuses to recognize this. But we will not let them prevail. We do not need any other weapon but our collective action.”
Castro announced that on the 24th of this month, teachers would once again hold a nationwide sit-down strike. Public school teachers have previously held a nationwide sit-down strike in November last year.