“Amid conditions of low wages, lack of job security, exploitative setup victimizing women, health issues, we can assert our calls and demand that the government responds to our problems if we have a union.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Thousands of workers from different industries mobilized this Labor day in Liwasang Bonifacio clamoring for decent wages, an end to contractualization, creation of jobs in the Philippines and not labor export, which, they said, only engenders cases like that of Mary Jane Veloso.
Other sectors also came out to amplify not just calls for security of tenure and decent wages but also the ouster of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Low salary, no secure jobs
The protesters decried the massive contractualization happening in both the public and private sectors.
Francis Ugay, union president of Alorica call center employees, the first to form a union in the BPO sector, said at Liwasang Bonifacio that some may say call center agents are receiving higher salaries and so there is no more reason to go abroad for a higher paying jobs. “But a call center agent only takes home P12,000 ($271) to P13,000 ($293) monthly salary, less than the P16,000 national minimum wage we are demanding. We do not have security of tenure — if we committed just one absence, we can be kicked out of work.”
In the government sector, Manny Baclogan, president of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) employees union, said, the lowest salary a government employee is receiving is P9,000 ($203) a month. He said this is too meager for the standard family living wage of more than P1,000 ($22) a day. To cope until the next pay day, he said, employees turn to loan sharks. “There is nothing more left in their salary because they have to pay loans and interests.”
He also slammed the government’s massive contractualization: of the 1.6 million government employees, he said 300,000 are contractuals. In DSWD alone, he said out of 33,000 employees only 2,000 are regular employees. The rest are contractual and some are what they call as “cost of service workers.” They do not have 13th month pay nor benefits.
Under the Aquino administration, government employees are deprived of their right to decent living as their calls for salary increases are still not being heard by the government, said France Castro, secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).
Mark Gonzales, president of the Banking and Financial Union against Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Circular No. 268 (BFU 268) said employees in the banking industry face job insecurity as banks begin to outsource bank functions.
Ian Porquia, president of the BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), said employees of call centers are also suffering from contractualization and low wages. While employees of call centers greet customers with cheerful voices, their work conditions are far from being cheerful.
“This is how these capitalists want us to work,” he said, adding the same capitalists do not give them what is due to them.
The right to unionize
Porquia said BPO employees are now more determined to fight for their right as they have formed the first union in BPO industries. He said they vow to continue to organize and establish more unions, though it has plenty of challenges
Emily Buhain of NXP employees union said the union is important so workers can assert their rights.
“Amid conditions of low wages, lack of job security, exploitative setup victimizing women, health issues, we can assert our calls and demand that the government responds to our problems if we have a union,” Buhain said.
Citing their experience in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Buhain challenged all those who are in the rally to organize and form their union.
Junk K to 12
The labor groups and advocates also called for the junking of K to 12 program, which, they said, promotes the labor export policy. They slammed the recent claim of the government of an improved economy when more than 5,000 Filipinos are leaving the country for work abroad every day.
Carlito Badion, secretary general of the urban poor group Kadamay, said they are living their everyday life through diskarte (trying out all means possible to survive) because there are no jobs available for them. He belied government’s claim that the number of unemployed has dropped.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said the lack of national industries and the worsening state of agriculture are some of the main reasons why the nation cannot create jobs.
“Instead of creating jobs in the country, the government vastly relies on its extant labor export policy, which drives millions of Filipinos abroad to find jobs. This policy is further intensified by the implementation of the K to 12 program, which is fundamentally designed to produce skilled workers for export,” Ridon said.
He said lack of jobs is the very situation that drove thousands like Veloso to “desperation forcing them to fall prey to human traffickers just to escape the cycle of poverty. In a way, we are a nation of Mary Janes.”
Charisse Bañez, spokeswoman of League of Filipino Students (LFS), also hit Aquino for “stubbornly” implementing the K to 12 program.
“Now, the Aquino government is hell-bent on implementing K to 12, an education program that turns schools into huge factories producing the likes of Mary Jane among the youth, the jobless and lowly paid workers,” Bañez said.
The May 1 protesters in the capital concluded their program in Liwasang Bonifacio with a march to Mendiola and vows to exact justice for the crimes to the working people by the government under President Aquino.