Workers have much to be sad about, influencer Donnalyn Bartolome reminded

Workers have much to be sad about, influencer Donnalyn Bartolome reminded
Donnalyn Bartolome
Photo release

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:39 p.m., Jan. 10)— Many people work in conditions that make it difficult for them to just be grateful to have a job as influencer Donnalyn Bartolome encouraged them to be after the New Year break, labor lawyer Luke Espiritu said in a social media post on Sunday.

In a January 3 post, Bartolome asked why people were sad that the holidays were over, adding in Filipino: "Aren't you supposed to be happy because you have a chance to improve your and your family's lives?"

The influencer, vlogger and recording artist has since apologized for her "wrong choice of words" that prompted criticism on social media, saying also that she also struggled early in her career.

"For unionists, labor organizers and those struggling with work, ['just be grateful' is] what the capitalists usually reply when workers air their issues with their jobs," Espiritu, who ran for senator in 2022 under Partido Lakas ng Masa, said.

He said that the idea that workers should be grateful to have a job has long been propagated by business owners and employers and that it was no surprise that Bartolome repeated it to her followers on social media.

Espiritu added, however, that working conditions in the Philippines leave employees with little to be grateful for so it was also understandable that many workers — especially among younger adults — reacted to Bartolome's post with criticism and harsh comments.

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He said that workers often have to deal with employers who see providing them with enough pay to live on as a subtraction from profit margins and bad for business. That means many workers have to make do with low pay and long hours while the companies they work for keep making money.

"For the capitalists, workers should be happy to have a job instead of having living wages across the Philippines, having regular employment without contractualization, and instead of forming unions to push for their democratic rights in the workplace," Espiritu said in Filipino.

Espiritu and other labor leaders have been calling for a national minimum wage that is enough for Filipino families to survive in the face of rising prices and an end to labor contractualization that deprives many workers of security of tenure and of the benefits that regular employees have.

Aside from that, he said, government has also failed to keep prices low or provide public services like transportation, power, water and healthcare, which would have helped ease workers' burdens.

He said these conditions force many employees to accept low-paying jobs or those without job security because they need to survive. Speaking in a Bonifacio Day rally last November 30, Espiritu said that workers are meanwhile denied their rights to form unions, to negotiate with management for better conditions and higher wages.

He said that then that even though these are guaranteed under the Constitution and the Labor Code, "all of these are voided in practice" because union organizing has been equated with terrorism. 

He said that when workers call attention to issues like wages and labor contractualization, "they are met by the [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict], they are met by the police, they are met by the military." 

Espiritu on Monday said: "These are the actual workers' experiences that I think people like Donnalyn Bartolome should understand."

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Despite the criticism it prompted, Bartolome's post was a good opportunity to bring workers' issues to the fore, he said.  "It can't be true that work is fun in the Philippines as long as 'worker pauperization', or the primacy of policies that keep workers and the poor impoverished, is the 'general rule'," he also said.

Nagkaisa Labor Coalition — an alliance of labor groups and unions — is calling on the Marcos administration to consult workers and other sectors on government programs for privatization, job creation, wage increases and security of tenure.

In a post on December 31, 2022, labor lawyer Sonny Matula of the Federation of Free Workers said a labor summit with government agencies is part of Nagkaisa's five-point agenda for workers.

"Nagkaisa is calling on government to come up coordinated plans on important government programs and there should be workers' participation in these because social partnerships are needed for government planning," he said in Filipino.

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