Why claims of stellar economic growth, industrial peace, taunt rather than cheer PH workers

For progressive unions, Aquino’s ‘stellar economic growth’ and ‘industrial peace’ are rosy reports that cheer only the corporate few who benefit from it. For the working majority, the claims sounded more like a taunt because it rested on what they call as ‘false claims’ or deception, coupled with repression.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Amid the flurries of yearender stories are boasts coming from the Office of President Benigno Aquino III that the Philippine economy is enjoying a stellar economic growth. Malacañang has ticked off statistics and names of various credit ratings agencies to bolster its reports on growth, which supposedly bucked trends in worldwide or even just in its neighboring countries’ performance.

But if statistics were to be cited at all, the progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno said that what best captures the workers’ plight in recapping 2013 is this: “P10 billion ($225 million) kickback for Napoles, P10 million ($225 thousand) pork for the SSS board, and P10 ($0.23) wage hike for workers.” Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU, said this illustrates better the state not only of Filipino workers but of the nation, where he said the corrupt few are getting richer while the hardworking majority are getting poorer.

In 2013, the sources of decent-paying livelihoods in which Filipinos could have shared the vaunted stellar growth still continued to elude them. In fact, Filipino working people seem purposefully denied their chance to share in the fruits of this supposed growth — as the growth only translated into bigger profits for bigger companies while the working people who created it continue to lose in terms of chances at having decent work, wages, benefits and union rights.

1. ‘Most number of jobless in history’

According to non-government thinktank Ibon Foundation, the combined estimated number of unemployed and underemployed in 2013 was 11.9 million with some 549,000 job losses among farmers, fisherfolk and workers and around 16,000 job losses among professionals. Ibon corrected in this estimate the lower numbers habitually misreported by the government after changing definitions in 2005. Without the new definitions which removed from statistics certain groups of actually unemployed, the more than 4.4 million jobless is “the most number of jobless Filipinos in history,” Ibon said in a statement.

The real unemployment rate has stayed in the 10.5-11.1 percent range during the period 2006-2012, Ibon added. The state of joblessness shows starkly in the country’s recording highest levels of unemployment even “at a time of feasting and election, when there should be growth,” as Prof. Leonor Briones said at a presentation of the dismal results of a study on the Aquino government’s budget transparency.

Ibon Foundation noted that the lack of job opportunities in the country is also reflected in how a fifth of the unemployed have college degrees, six percent have post-secondary qualifications and more than a third have high school degrees. Another sign of local joblessness, it added, is the government’s active promotion of labor export policy instead of generating jobs at home, and daily overseas Filipino worker deployment reaching 4,924 in 2012.

What consistently weakens job generation despite ‘stellar growth?’ Ibon Foundation and most progressive peoples’ organizations blame the government’s continued implementation of liberalization policies, which caused domestic agriculture and manufacturing to fall to their smallest share of the economy since at least the 1950s.

In a statement issued on this year’s Human Right’s Day, Ibon Foundation said the share of manufacturing in gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen from 27.6 percent in 1980 to 22 percent in 2012; agriculture’s share in GDP in turn has fallen from 23.5 percent to 11 percent over the same period.

“This shrinking of productive sectors deprives millions of Filipinos the opportunity for decent work, livelihood and means of subsistence,” Ibon said, adding this also partly explains why despite the doleout conditional cash transfer, the poverty incidence rate in the country remains unchanged, while in numbers it worsened.

2. Lowest real wage rates, record profit-taking

The government’s consistent failure in solving unemployment and underemployment not only breeds poverty as millions are denied chances to get jobs. According to KMU’s Labog, “it is also bad news for workers as capitalists, especially the big ones, exploit high unemployment to try to make workers accept lower wages, contractual employment and violations of union rights.”

The labor center said the country’s two-tier wage system, implemented since last year, remains in full effect and has mandated some even more meager wage hikes.

In Region 4’s Calabarzon, which lies immediately south of the capital, workers in its “growth corridor area” were given only a “Conditional Temporary Productivity Allowance” of P12.50 ($0.28) while in “emerging growth area,” hike in minimum wages ranged from P2.00 to P7.00 ($0.05 to $0.16), amounts which are supposed to cover the shortfall in prevailing wages and the region’s “floor wage” of P255 ($5.74).

The two-tier wage system essentially cuts down in two strokes the already criticized as low wages in the country: First, it seeks to institute a lower “floor wage,” sans an enabling law disregarding the present minimum wages; Second, according to labor leaders in Pamantik, KMU’s chapter in Southern Tagalog, it makes it more arduous for workers to demand a share in the increased profits or productivity.

In fact, in light of the growing contractualization of employed workers which, so far, results in reduced unions, the workers’ ability to demand wage hikes, even as just a proportion of hikes in profit, also diminishes.

Labor groups also said the variable wage or second tier is also used as an incentive to drive workers toward working harder than ever, to hike productivity in hopes their wages may be increased.

Under Aquino, the gap between the family living wage and the minimum wage has also increased, from P551 ($12.41) in June 2010 to P585 ($13.18) in August 2013. Ibon Foundation’s study was made before the Energy Regulatory Commission approved a P4.15 ($0.09) per kWh increase in Manila Electric Company’s power rates, and before oil companies increased the prices of liquefied petroleum gas by more than P11 ($0.25) per kilo. Taking these in mind plus the slew of looming price hikes by 2014 (including MRT-LRT fare hike, hike in SSS and Philhealth contributions), Filipino workers are in for even tougher times under Aquino.

While ordinary people grapple with shrinking values of their wages, the income of the country’s richest 1 percent remains equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 30 percent, showing severe inequity that reflects the control of the economy by a few, Ibon Foundation said early this month.

The numbers for Aquino’s vaunted stellar growth are thus showing up more in profits. According to Sonny Africa, research head of Ibon Foundation during their midyear briefing July this year, the net worth of 40 richest Filipinos doubled under Aquino, from $23 billion in 2010 to $ 47 billion in 2012.

3. Heightened deception and repression

Given the greater pressure to work harder amid stagnating wage levels, workers tend to demand wage hikes and humane working conditions, resist intolerable work quotas, contractualization and imposition of lower or variable wages.

But even if guaranteed under law, workers still complain of severe labor repression when they try to uphold their rights, the Ibon Foundation noted in a Human Rights Day statement. From June 2010 to July 2013, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights recorded 392 trade union-related human rights violations counting 30,578 victims. There is also an accumulation of firm-level evidence of increasing contractualization and agency-hiring which hinder the right to unionize. Attacks on unions have caused further decline in union membership from 11.7 percent of wage and salary workers in 2005 to 9.9 percent by June 2012, with collective bargaining agreements covering only 10.3 percent of workers in June 2012.

In 2013, Bulatlat.com reported about the strike of Pentagon Steel Workers’ Corporation, whose issue was about safety at the workplace, and the successful strike of Coke workers, whose issue was about wages and regularization on the job of years-long employed workers. Yet, the labor department denied that the strike had occurred there this year.

The labor department prides itself for listing fewer to zero strikes, but behind its claim of ‘industrial peace’ are various no-strike mechanisms meant to stifle workers’ protests before it turns into full-blown strikes, most progressive labor leaders told Bulatlat.com.

The labor department has preventive mediation, conciliation and arbitration; it has ADR or ‘alternative dispute resolution’ — many of which outrightly block strikes. It also signed no-strike agreements, the most recent of which was the one signed this month with the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB). The labor department dubbed these no-strike agreements as for industrial peace with operators of economic zones. Last but not the least for its brutal, bloody record is the assumption of jurisdiction or AJ.

When some struggles still developed into full-blown strikes, as what happened in 2013, the labor department seems to find technicalities not to list those strikes as such. Belying the claim aired by Pres. Benigno Aquino III on the 80th anniversary celebration of the Department of Labor and Employment, that out of the more than 150 notices of strike filed this year, only one strike pushed through, Labog cited their own monitoring report.

By KMU’s monitoring alone, Labog said, strikes were held in the following companies this year: Digitel, 3MR, Coke, PMI-Bohol Colleges, Holy Angel University, and Brokenshire College. There might be more in other regions. Port workers, for example, are frequently in agitated state as they battle privatization, waves of demolition of their homes and retrenchment.

Workers of Pentagon Steel Corporation in Quezon City and Janrey in Pasig City did not file notices of strike but set up picket-protests in front of company gates to condemn the illegal lockout implemented by the said companies.

“Contrary to government’s claim of ‘industrial peace,’ workers continue to form unions and hold strikes as well as other militant protests to assert their rights. That’s because working conditions are deteriorating,” Labog said.

The Aquino government is using tactics employed by the Arroyo government against the labor movement, Labog said. He condemned the still continuing cases of slapping trumped-up charges on trade-union leaders. He also cited the case of Ben Villeno, one of KMU’s long-standing regional leaders, Labog said. Villeno is a Southern Tagalog labor leader who was allegedly abducted by soldiers August this year.

Arrest warrants of KMU-National Capital Region chairperson Roy Velez and deputy secretary-general Amelita Bravante, which were issued in 2012, have been junked this year due to workers’ campaigns. But their co-accused in the trumped-up charges filed against them – public sector union organizers Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, both of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees or Courage, remain in detention.

Trumped-up charges that were filed in 2012 against Hermie Marasigan, KMU leader in Southern Tagalog, and Ian Evidente, KMU leader in Negros, remain active. The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights told Bulatlat.com that more unionists are being slapped with trumped up charges in Negros.

Still, contractualization and other schemes that lower wages and benefits continue to prompt workers to form or maintain unions, and conduct protest actions that could lead to a strike, as the TV5 and bank employees, oil palm plantation and port workers, faced in 2013.

For progressive unions, Aquino’s ‘stellar economic growth’ and ‘industrial peace’ are rosy reports that cheer only the corporate few who benefit from it. For the working majority, the claims sounded more like a taunt because it rested on what they call as ‘false claims’ or deception, coupled with repression. ()

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