Labor alliance sees more workers' protests in 2020

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Labor alliance sees more workers' protests in 2020
Demonstrators stage the Labor Day protest last May 1, 2019.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Workers' groups will launch more protests in 2020, labor alliance Pagkakaisa ng Uring Manggagawa, or Paggawa, said, claiming government inaction on labor issues.

Paggawa said these are in response to government policies that have been a burden to workers.

"Capitalists [have] made a lot of gains against labor last year – in the anti-contractualization front, in the rice tariffication battle, and in rate hikes in utilities," said Paggawa spokesperson and Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino chairman Leody de Guzman in a statement on Wednesday.

"They will not sit on their laurels. Capital is insatiable and will push further in 2020 to intensify exploitation."

'Pro-elite president'

During his campaign for the presidency, Rodrigo Duterte committed to put a stop to contractual employment, a promise that labor groups said remains unfulfilled despite the Palace saying in 2018 that the executive branch has done what it can and that disallowing contractual labor is up to Congress.

Duterte vetoed the Security of Tenure bill, a measure that further regulated but did not ban contractual labor, in 2019 saying it "unduly broadens the scope and definition of prohibited labor-only contracting." 

"Endo" is from "end of contract," from a practice of hiring contractual labor for periods of fewer than six months, which excluded workers from mandated work benefits as regular employees. The term and the call to "end Endo" has come to mean ending contractual labor altogether.

Employers' groups have said that some companies need contractual labor to meet seasons of higher demand.

“There is no longer any doubt that the so-called self-proclaimed ‘socialist' President is pro-elite. Workers who cling to hope that substantial reforms are still possible are in for bigger disappointments,” De Guzman said.

The Paggawa spokesperson ran in the 2019 Senate election under the tagline "Manggagawa Naman" and a platform strongly opposing contractualization and higher excise taxes from the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law. 

Towards the end of 2019, consumers were warned of another round of price hikes owing to the last tranche of the excise tax hike as part of the TRAIN Law. Gasoline prices will see another P1 increase, while P1.50 is added to diesel prices and P1 for those of kerosene.

Bayan Muna secretary general Renato Reyes on Wednesday also recognized that 2019 was marked by, among other issues, labor unrest as the numerous worker strikes taking place. According to Reyes, "almost all [were] brutally attacked by private goons and state forces."

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“Workers are no longer defensive and defenseless, they are now rediscovering the potency of strike not only as a defensive weapon but also an offensive one,” De Guzman said.

'New crony capital?'

"In the event that tax reductions are in fact implemented, it will put the Philippines on a more equal footing with regional rivals and allow the island nation to capitalize on key assets such as its English speaking workforce," ASEAN Briefing wrote in 2016. 

But lawyer Ernie Arellano, who chairs the National Confederation of Labor, warned that these factors were indicative that Duterte is rolling out a plan to gain financial support and political capital by extending favors to cronies. 

“Right now the regime is already attacking the owners of Maynilad, Manila Water, ABS-CBN, and others, but his intention is not to empower the workers or the state vis-à-vis these oligarchs but only to replace them with his own set of oligarchs,” he said.

READ: Duterte slams water concessionaires

The three companies mentioned by Arellano have been in hot water with the chief executive for different reasons: the president has called out the two water concessionaires over allegedly onerous contracts that he said are "screwing" the Filipino people. 

Broadcast giant ABS-CBN, meanwhile, drew the ire of Duterte much earlier after he lambasted them for airing anti-Duterte advertisements he said were paid for by his political rivals. He has repeatedly said that the network will not get its franchised renewed when it expires this year.

Duterte, in a speech in late December, told the broadcasting company to just give up and sell the network.

According to Arellano, the presence of “local capitalists who serve as dummies of financiers from Mainland China [providing] ready cash for take-overs” was emboldening the president to continue forcing the shutdowns of the aforementioned companies.

Duterte's foreign policy has maintained closer ties with China and Russia, marking a departure from longtime ally and former colonizer the United States. 

RELATED: Philippines is 'the lead in the South China Sea disputes,' Locsin claims

Fishers federation Pamalakaya even slammed Duterte for what they said was his inaction in standing up for Filipino fishermen harassed by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Cherry-picked conclusions

The labor groups said that another front of the government's supposed cronyism was the use of false data to back up their pronouncements. They said that these were all part of a "multi-front assault" on their rights as workers. 

Paggawa also slammed the government's earlier claim that poverty incidence had dropped off significantly under the Duterte administration, under which many people were no longer considered as poor, a claim House solons called "the most significant positive news in the first three years of the Duterte administration.”

“The way we measure poverty is ridiculous, if not insulting. No serious official can defend the poverty threshold of Php 10,727 for a family of five, or Php 50 per person per day for food and P21 per person per day for non-food needs,” said lawyer Jimmy Miralles of labor group Association of Genuine Labor Organizations.

The Philippine Statistics Authority defined the poverty threshold as "no less than P 10,481, on average, [which] was needed to meet both basic food."

On the contrary, the World Bank lists $1.90/day as its International Poverty Line since 2015. In 2019, that equated to around P96.45 per day or around P2893.50 a month and around P14,467.50 a month for a family of five.

In an earlier statement, Pamalakaya said they perceived this as a government claim "that a person with P80 in his pocket or her purse is not poor."

"This government attempts to claim accomplishment by downgrading the benchmark of poverty and disqualifyng the obviously poor. This is plain manipulation by the numbers," Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap said.

Similarly, a report by think tank Ibon Foundation in early December said that the methodology behind the state-run PSA's survey underestimated the plight of the poor.

READ: P7,528 monthly 'no-frills' food budget unrealistic, government told

The labor alliance also slammed the PSA's definition of employment: "a person of working-age who has worked at least one hour in the past seven days." 

Conversely, the PSA's definition of unemployment adds that the unemployed must be "seeking work [or] had taken specific steps to look for a job or establish a business during the basic survey reference period." 

“Imagine that! Just find a gig for an hour in the past week, and you are magically employed in PSA data. Combine [these] and you will really end up with bloated employment figures,” Miralles said.

RELATED: Duterte donor Dennis Uy debuts on Forbes’ Philippines Richest List

The Philippines was included in the 2019 Global Rights Index of the International Trade Union Confederation's list of the world's worst countries for workers. 

“All of these are meant to generate support from corporations, and send them a message that Duterte is here for you, and it will be here for you if you support his candidates in 2022,” De Guzman said.








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