By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – “Evelyn” (not her real name), 56 years old, worked in SM mall as a sales clerk for 23 years. A mother of two, she raised her family of four with P335 ($6.50) per day. This salary did not increase even after she became a regular employee. One of the few workers who ever held a regular status, she witnessed more than two decades of worsening labor conditions in SM.
Her height being more or less only 5’2, she was required by the management to wear five-inch heels for eight hours a day, being allowed to sit only during their break time. Her manager would also ask her to work in the bodega or the warehouse whenever Henry Sy would come visit.
She was terminated in 2003 after she and several other workers mobilized against the SM management. In an interview with Bulatlat, she recalled how private guards and goons of SM would chase the protesting employees. She was injured in the chin when police mowed down protesters with water cannon.
Since then, the mall conglomerate has employed more and more contractual workers.
Today, Oct. 13, Evelyn was among other former contractual workers and members of various sectoral groups led by Gabriela who staged a nationwide protest against SM and contractualization. Mobilizations were held in SM Clark, SM Calamba, SM Manila, SM Bicutan, SM Bacolod, and SM Delgado in Iloilo as part of the national coordinated “strike back” against Henry Sy and SM’s exploitation of workers.
Unity in struggle
“Majority ng victims of contractualization ay babae,” (Most victims of contractualization are women) said Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Emmi De Jesus in a rally in front of SM North EDSA.
“In the service industry, there is still the concept that women should be the seller. The women really play a big role if they can see the exploitative situation they are in and the situation that makes them more vulnerable to health problems,” she said in Filipino.
De Jesus explained that because of the short break time of workers in SM, the women usually acquire urinary tract infection (UTI). Employees used to have a one-and-half hour break: a one-hour lunch time, and 30 minutes cumulative break time to go to the restroom and eat snacks. But this break time has been compressed to an aggregate of only 45 minutes.
Women mall workers were also used to be required to wear heels over long periods of time, which has caused the occurrence of varicose veins among many female employees. This was recently prohibited by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Members of Kalipunan ng Damayang Maghihirap (KADAMAY) also joined the protest.
Ricky Indicio, spokesperson of the San Roque Vendors’ Association of Kadamay, proclaimed their support to the laborers’ campaign for higher wages and job regularization. He scored that the employees’ wages are not proportional to the profits the company rakes in from the business.
“We are one with the workers including the employees of SM, the salesladies and pocket boys, in their campaign for higher wages. In our community, in the market, they are also our buyers. We know the hardships they go through because they also buy from us,” Indicio said.
Youth activists also joined the mobilization to support the workers.
Vince Simon, member of Anakbayan National, highlighted how the likes of Henry Sy often take advantage of the workers.
“Ito ang pagpapahirap na ginagawa ng uri ni Henry Sy. Alam natin na ang uri ng mga kapitalista, nagpapayaman mula sa lakas-paggawa ng mga manggagawa,” he said.