“There is no reason at all to throw in taxpayers’ money to DOLE when it cannot even provide Congress with the nationwide and disaggregated statistics of contract labor employees in the private sector, a piece of information that Gabriela has been asking for all throughout Aquino’s presidency.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Compared to five years ago when President Aquino first set foot in Malacañang, the budget for the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and its attached agencies has grown by 140 percent to more than P15.29 billion (or over $327 million) for 2016. Yet, it has not translated to improved working conditions of Filipino workers. On the contrary, they are worse off today than they were five years ago.
This was the conclusion of the two women sectoral representatives of Gabriela Women’s Party after facing off with Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz in yesterday’s appropriations committee hearing. It opened the budget proposal of the said agency to scrutiny.
For 2015, the Labor department’s budget is P11.55 billion ($247.4 million), or double the amount when Aquino became president, yet, the workers’ real wage has shrunk as a result of Labor Secretary Baldoz’s programs such as the two-tier wage policy, according to GWP Rep. Emmi De Jesus.
The women legislators also pointed to Baldoz as behind the voluntary compliance in safety standards and the worsening job contractualization in the Philippines. These two policies pushed by the Labor Department under the Aquino administration have repeatedly been blamed by worker’ groups for causing debilitating if not deadly accidents in the workplace, and forcing the masses of workers into low-wage insecure jobs.
“Hindi nakakapagtaka na pumutok ang maraming welga kahit silang mga hindi organisado sa unyon, dahil nagipit na ang mga obrero sa sobrang pagsasamantala at kagutuman,” (No wonder many strikes broke out even among establishments without unions, because workers have been driven to it by extreme exploitation and hunger), De Jesus said.
Last month, Gabriela filed a resolution calling for a probe into the contractual employment setups and violent dispersals of workers’ protests in the Lucio Tan-owned Tanduay Distillers Inc., where until today, the long-time contractual production workers are on strike. The women partylist group has also filed and pushed the House of Representatives to least pass the Workers’ Safety and Health Inspection and Employers’ Liability Decree or Workers’ SHIELD.
At the budget hearing in Congress yesterday, Baldoz denied watering down the regulatory function of safety inspections, but cited as an excuse that 99 percent of workplaces are small and medium enterprises, which, she said, cannot comply with regulations.
Baldoz also boasted that only five of the 98 minimum wage rates in the country are still below the poverty threshold. But when asked to explain how the DOLE and the NEDA have computed numbers to arrive at the official threshold figures, which it cited as basis for judging whether the wage is above or below the poverty-level, Baldoz could not give an explanation.
Labor department’s abdication of duty
The truth is, the Labor Department “rarely initiates investigations of thousands of employers who violate labor laws, and leaves complainants much to their own devices,” De Jesus has said in an earlier statement.
Gabriela and many labor institutions in the Philippines have been asking data from the Labor department, which it has consistently failed to provide because, according to de Jesus, the Labor department no longer conducts studies and investigations as shown in past experiences. Aside from Baldoz’s failure to explain what happened to the living wage, it also has no updated published report on minimum wage compliance.
The last report on its site was in 2011.
“Kung walang wastong pag-aaral, bakit naglalabas ng policy at memoradums ang DOLE?” (If the Labor Department has no appropriate study, why is it issuing policies and memorandums?) De Jesus asked.
The Labor Department has also been revealed to be giving certificates of compliance even to firms who are hardly complying with labor standards, as shown in the Kentex factory fire tragedy in Valenzuela City last May 13.
De Jesus also pointed to DOLE’s apparently giving up jurisdiction of workers’ safety in the mining industry, as revealed in July when nine workers died at Semirara mines in Antique. It was the Department of Energy that ordered the mines to close and formed a probe team composed of DoE officials.
Given the seeming abandonment by the Labor Department of its duties toward the workers’ welfare, the Gabriela Women representatives asked why its budget is being increased rather than reduced accordingly.
“There is no reason at all to throw in taxpayers’ money to DOLE when it cannot even provide Congress with the nationwide and disaggregated statistics of contract labor employees in the private sector, a piece of information that Gabriela has been asking for all throughout Aquino’s presidency,” De Jesus said.
From various reports of labor organizations, non-regulars now outnumber regular workers. Contractuals or workers with non-regular status on the job despite having worked there for years or holding positions that are supposedly for regular workers, now comprise up to 90 percent of the workforce in establishments. This is despite the Aquino government’s supposed banning of labor-only contracting.
Even the Labor Department’s supposed program for reintegrating the returning overseas Filipino workers is nothing short of pathetic, based on the findings of Gabriela.
Baldoz has repeatedly claimed that Aquino has significantly boosted the livelihoods of Balikbayan, but that claim is “laughable,” said Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, saying the so-called kabuhayan packages consist only of petty trades, such as learning to do manicures or dispersal of pasture goats.
From experience, these packages don’t last. According to Ilagan, livelihood simply melts away sans a thriving business atmosphere or when widespread hunger and desperation drive the ex-OFWs to just consume their livestock.
“This is the bankruptcy of Aquino’s labor export policy and refusal to jumpstart an economy based on heavy industries. It’s really sad that the budget poured into DOLE is used to con and oppress workers, instead of really empowering them,” Ilagan said.