The massive layoffs in the Philippines brought about by the global financial crisis and the increasing appetite of companies for more profit have exposed yet again the Arroyo regime’s sympathy not for workers but for capitalists. And instead of ensuring that workers’ rights are protected, the Department of Labor and Employment has become an even more willing tool by companies to satisfy their greed.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Crising Adao, vice-president of the union of employees of Triumph Philippines, tried hard to hold back her tears as she spoke before hundreds of workers, the unemployed and youth labor advocates in front of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Wednesday. “After years of service at Triumph, we are already considered too old to be hired as new workers in other companies,” she said. “What we need are stable jobs, not ‘livelihood’ programs that DOLE officials are dangling before us to make us bite Triumph’s retrenchment package.”
From Aug. 28 to 30, the management of Triumph said, the company would give its willing workers their separation pay. It refuses to rehire or retain them for its new plant despite the continuous picket-protest of hundreds of its 1,660 workers in one of its two factories in Taguig City.
In Hong Kong, migrant workers with the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) and labor rights advocates such as the Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC) and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) also held a solidarity protest action at the Philippine and Thai embassies. They expressed support to the striking workers of Triumph International in Thailand and Philippines.
Workers troops to the Department of Labor office in Intramuros to denounce the agency’s bias for capitalists. (Photos by Marya Salamat / bulatlat.com)
Triumph International Philippines had announced last month they would “close down” their Philippine plants, but it did not file a notice of closure with the DOLE. Instead, it filed a notice of retrenchment, bolstering the workers’ suspicions that it would continue production in Laguna with lower paid, non-unionized contractual workers. Amid all these, the labor secretary had sat with Triumph’s management to convince the employees to accept the retrenchment.
“Why is DOLE behaving like this?” Adao asked. “Isn’t it DOLE’s job to protect Filipinos’ decent labor and employment conditions? They are not there to speak for capitalists, especially foreigners.” Why, she added, is the DOLE “hoodwinking workers to get rid of their unions and hard-won collective bargaining agreements?”
“The DOLE has become a graveyard of cases filed by workers,” said Dario Apuya, vice president of union of workers in Advan, a company making shoes. He said many workers have filed complaints before the DOLE, but it has always turned a deaf ear on them.
Whose Interests Is DOLE Protecting?
The workers union in Advan, the Bleustar Workers Labor Union (BWLU), has been shuttling to and from DOLE offices during the past year to complete the requirements so it could negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with its employer. The union said they have practically completed all the requirements demanded by law after their two-month strike last year, which ended with the signing of an agreement between the union and Jimmy Ong, their employer. But Ong had vowed to oppose union organizing in Advan, “even if I spend all of my money (to counter that),” he reportedly said.
Requirements from DOLE seem to favor Ong’s efforts to thwart the union, said Apuya, because although DOLE had sat with Ong’s representatives to sign a memorandum of agreement with BWLU last year to resolve their strike, DOLE and Ong are now saying another piece of paper is required to formalize the recognition of BWLU as Advan’s union and, therefore, its sole representative in collective bargaining.
In September, it would be a full year since Advan’s union and Ong signed the agreement, witnessed by DOLE. But so far, the union still lacks a certificate of recognition as workers’ sole bargaining agent, the only paper barring it from negotiating with Ong.
“We thought we have rights to form a union,” said the protesting workers of BWLU. “Why is it so hard to become a government and company-recognized union?”