“We are hopeful today that we can attain the change we have longed for.”
By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA – Workers led by labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) pushed their five-point agenda to secure their rights and welfare under President Rodrigo Duterte, at a forum July 15 at the Occupational Safety and Health Center Auditorium in Quezon City.
The labor group’s proposals include a stop to contractualization, implementation of a national minimum wage, an end to trade union repression, protection of rights and welfare, and support to the ongoing peace talks.
The agenda has been presented in the People’s Summit on July 28, but the workers convened again to deepen their understanding of the points declared, KMU Vice-Chairperson Roger Soluta said. KMU was also among the groups that submitted the People’s Agenda to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III last week.
“We are hopeful today that we can attain the change we have longed for,” Soluta said.
The KMU said labor conditions in the country have worsened, contrary to the claim of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier in January. There may be government efforts to guarantee workers’ rights and benefits, but these have not made significant changes to the condition of wages, employment, trade-union rights and workplace safety, KMU stated.
Regularization of workers
Primary in the workers’ demands is the end to contractualization, which has pushed workers into accepting measly wages without benefits. The scheme allows an employee to perform essential tasks in a company for a little less than six months per contract without being regularized, since the worker’s contract reaches “endo” or end of contract before the prescribed period for regularization.
Several modes of employment have been “invented,” referring to workers as agency-hired, “talents,” on-the-job trainees, job order, casual and temporary, said Elmer Labog, KMU national chairperson. He said behind the spike of contractuals is the DOLE Department Order No. 18-A Series of 2011, which sets the guidelines for job contracting and allows the existence of employment agencies.
Duterte must issue an executive order regularizing all contractuals, and he should declare as priority bill the Regular Employment Bill filed by the Anakpawis Partylist, Labog added. The bill states that workers of a contractor or subcontractor will be considered as employees of the actual employer as long as the work done is necessary and essential.
Implement a national minimum wage
Second is the call for a national minimum wage: P750 ($16) per day for private sector employees and P16,000 ($342) per month for government workers. The Wage Rationalization Law of 1989 created more than 1,000 different regional minimum wages and separate rates for agriculture and non-agriculture workers.
The current P481 ($10) minimum wage in Metro Manila falls below the P1,089 ($23) family living wage prescribed by the independent think-tank IBON Foundation. In the first quarter of 2016, a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed around 10.5 million families identified themselves poor.
Goods and services in the provinces are also expensive and it is hard to find decent jobs and livelihood, Labog said.
Meanwhile, businessmen amassed huge profits under the administration of Benigno Aquino III, with the 40 richest Filipinos increasing their net worth three-fold, from P1.3 trillion in 2010 to P3.2 trillion ($27 billion to $68 billion) in 2015, said IBON Foundation. The chief executive officer of Manila Electric Company alone made at least P194,521 ($4,155) a day in 2013.
Uphold union rights
The workers’ agenda also calls for penalties for employers or individuals who illegally entrench workers trying to form unions, and the non-interference of police and military in labor disputes.
One such case was that of the workers of Musahamat Workers Labor Union (MWLU), a Kuwaiti-owned banana plantation in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, who filed a complaint before the International Labor Organization in February 2015, after the military presented their labor leaders as members of the New People’s Army. KMU-affiliate MWLU has been red-tagged by the company and the military in an effort to defeat it in a certification election.
KMU denounced the management of Musahamat Farms “for launching a smear campaign against the workers’ union in an effort to make the management union win.” More than 300 rank-and-file workers stood for the MWLU that advocated higher wages, regularization and right to form a union.
KMU also noted the harassment against labor right defenders, including Rafael Baylosis, former KMU vice-chairperson for external and political affairs, who has a standing warrant of arrest for trumped-up charges.
The group also called on the new administration to hold former president Benigno Aquino III accountable for the presidential pork barrelDisbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and for the human rights violations under his Oplan Bayanihan.
Under Aquino, at least 15 workers were victims of extrajudicial killings, one of them a KMU member, said a report by human rights group Karapatan. A KMU leader, Ben Villeno, is a victim of enforced disappearance.
Fourth in the agenda is upholding worker’s union rights and welfare, and creation of more decent jobs for Filipinos through national industrialization and land reform. In 2014, an average of 5,054 migrant workers have been deployed per day, higher than the 4,018 recorded by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in 2010.
Workers also cried for justice for the workers of Kentex Fire that killed 72, and other fatalities in the labor sector, as they urged to penalize employers failing the Occupational Health and Safety standards.
Resumption of peace talks
Lastly, the labor group supported the resumption of peace talks since one of its agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), will benefit workers. The document pushes for national industrialization, giving Filipinos full ownership and control of their industries, said freed political detainee Sharon Cabusao.
“CASER includes the urgent needs of each sector… It is the blueprint of a more developed country we envision,” she said.
Workers look forward to the next administration, especially with former Anakpawis Partylist representative Joel Maglunsod as labor undersecretary. Addressing the crowd, Maglungsod reiterated Duterte’s promise of ending contractualization, and faster processing of workers’ concerns and problems.
However, he reminded the groups to remain vigilant and continue organizing among their local communities to educate more people. “Nothing will happen to the advocacies of Duterte if there is no movement pushing from the ground,” Maglungsod said.