New Year's resolutions for the Filipino workers

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

Inasmuch as the Philippine economy has done commendably well in 2013, better than expected, in fact, and notwithstanding all the series of disasters and calamities, both man-made and natural, it is only appropriate that the government should resolve to strengthen protection of the most vulnerable sector of the nation's social and economic structures, which is the working class, comprising as it does of no less than eighty percent of the 100 million Filipinos. Businessmen, politicians, actors and boxing champions do not need State protection. The workers do. The ones who need most protection are the homeless, jobless and victims of  calamities who lost their homes and families to earthquakes, storm surges and wars.

Taipans, tycoons, moguls, magnates, landlords and big-time monopolistic owners of banks, malls, airlines, power companies, media networks and even exclusive schools, private hospitals and drug companies, those cartels controlling rice trading, oil business, power generation and distribution, water and utilities, communications conglomerates, they  do not need government  protection at all. They have more than enough money, power, influence and connections. But the squatters, the landless farmers, the subsistence fishermen, the dislocated cultural communities and ethnic groups, the lumads and marginalized Muslims and the gypsies from Zamboanga who are now roaming the streets of Luneta, the victims of  Yolanda, Sendong, Ondoy and the war in Zamboanga, these are the ones who cry for protection.

Therefore, if the government should remain true to its role as ''parens patriae,'' or as guardian of  the welfare of  the people, it should resolve to help the poor, not only in aid of the election of 2016 but anchored on a really authentic and genuine concern and compassion for the underprivileged. The first resolution is to dismantle the monopoly of  business engaged in prime commodities, like rice, oil, power, water and other essential items, the lack or insufficiency of which may pose a grave and imminent danger to the security of the State. Second, is for government to address more seriously and purposively the unemployment and underemployment issues. We should stop those band-aid solutions to joblessness, like the outmoded and ineffective job fairs, ad nauseam or the emergency cash for work programs that short-term, disjointed and very tentative. Long-term strategies are needed.

Third, the government should act more seriously on the nagging problem of gross imbalance between workers' income and the rising cost of living. without unnecessarily affecting the wage structures nor endangering the viability of  small and medium-scale industries, that constitute the bulk of our economy, the government should create non-wage safety nets for the working class. Fourth, safety nets should include government subsidy for housing, transportation, medical care and education. The SSS, PhilHealth, and Pag-Ibig should behave as State welfare institutions and not as business ventures that suck the blood of hard-earned wages from the working class. Fifth, the State should control education so that learning shall cease to be a big business for greedy investors but as a social function of a socially-oriented government.

The sixth resolution is to address the migration issue. The State should stop being reactionary and should put money where it counts. Inasmuch as the OFWs are remitting no less than US$24 billion every year, government should at least add  ten percent of that (2.4 billion dollars annually ) to the budget of the POLOs (Philippine Overseas Labor Offices). The DOLE should appoint at least one labor attaché for every 20,000 OFWs and one welfare officer for every 5,000 Filipinos abroad. There should be more and bigger refuge centers for depressed migrant workers. Reintegration should be infused more money. There should be more lawyers, guidance counselors, psychologists and behaviorists on the ground. As of today, the sex-for-flight phenomenon still exists because the government is talking too much but not doing enough.

The seventh resolution is to overhaul the labor-dispute settlement system. Too much delay, too many levels in adjudication. From the Labor Arbiter, to the NLRC, to the Court of  Appeals and ultimately to the Supreme Court takes about 20 years or more. Justice is not only delayed, justice is denied. Voluntary arbitration, conciliation and mediation are only preferred by lip service, from 1974 when the Labor Code was promulgated until 2014, or forty years of policy hypocrisy. Until now voluntary arbitrators and conciliators are paid pittance while the arbiters are spoiled with high wages and benefits. But look at their performance. I challenge the leadership of DOLE and NLRC to conduct a yearly performance audit of these functionaries. There are some good performers, to be fair, even a few outstanding ones, but the rest are burdens to the working class. They should either resign or be sacked.

No matter if, as they say, the economy did well. The real test is the workers' plight. The government has a lot, lot more to do and should do for the workers. The State is mandated by the Constitution, both the 1973 and the 1987 charters to afford full protection to labor. But as Shakespeare bewailed, that dictum is more honored in breach than in compliance. The fault, as the sage said, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we allow our men to remain underlings, at a time of great opportunities to do more. Pres. Noy has only about 900 days to deliver on his promises. His popularity is sliding down. The people are gradually coming to their senses. The Camelot is just fiction and the harsh realities remain: The poor shall continue to suffer. Can the president still turn the tides of our peoples' outrageous fortunes? Honestly, my dear, I don't think so.

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