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Opinion

Turbulence ahead in the labor front?

Atty Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

Those who are old enough to remember the turbulent late eighties during the presidency of Cory Aquino will understand that the scenario under this coming administration, to the minds of the keen observers, will most probably approximate those years of many strikes, pickets and labor activism. If you remember, the first draconian initiative that President Cory undertook was to release NDF chairman Joma Sison and Kumander Dante or Bernabe Buscayno, the erstwhile commander of the New Peoples' Army, and many other political prisoners. They were detained by President Marcos and were let go upon the request of the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

One of the most controversial appointees of President Cory was DOLE Secretary Augusto "Bobbit" Sanchez, a member MABINI, a group of progressive, ideological human rights lawyers like the late former senatorJoker Arroyo, former senator Rene Saguisag, and, surprisingly, Vice President Jejomar  Binay. They were then the young, dynamic, passionate and fearless apostles of the venerable pro-masses senators Lorenzo Tanada and Jose Diokno. Under the Sanchez watch of DOLE, the KMU or Kilusang Mayo Uno became the most active, aggressive and fearless crusaders for workers' rights. The KMU led the massive organizing of the working class and organized and staged a lot of strikes, pickets and demonstrations.

As early as today, even while President-elect Duterte and his chosen DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III have not been sworn into office yet, there is already a marked increase in the union organizing incidence in Laguna. One of the most common rallying cries of the workers is not only the usual demands for increases in wages and benefits but also the highly contentious issue of contractualization. It is recalled that in the last presidential debates held in the Phinma University of Pangasinan, all the five candidates for president, including Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, were vocal in denouncing contractualization and vowed to abolish it.

With this issue and with a president and a Labor secretary who are both strongly pro-poor, pro-labor and anti-contractualization, the labor leaders and their members will gain a lot of headway in organizing unions and staging concerted actions and other mass movements. Even small firms with less than 20 workers will be organized, just like the times of President Cory and Secretary Bobbit Sanchez when small barber shops and carinderias were formed into radical, confrontational and activist unions. The investors were terrified. The management sector was extremely worried, and the people were also deeply concerned.

My unsolicited word of advice to the employers and the HR community in the country is not to worry if they have not committed any unfair labor practice. They should not be bothered if they've not been practicing any form of union-busting and other anti-labor acts. If there be more unions, and thus there shall come about more challenges in employee and labor relations, so be it. Let us just continue to manage our businesses and lead our people within the framework of labor laws, and with utmost respect for workers' dignity and rights. What matters most is that we deal with our employees in a manner that expresses respect for their rights, but without compromising or inherent management prerogatives.

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