Under Aquino: Workers’ rights exist only on paper

A part of workers' picket in front of Manila Regional Trial Court in time for a hearing of a case against a labor rights defender on Dec 8 (Photo by Neil Ambion / Bulatlat.com)
A part of workers’ picket in front of Manila Regional Trial Court in time for a hearing of a case against a labor rights defender on Dec 8 (Photo by Neil Ambion / Bulatlat.com)

When workers try to exercise their rights to hold mass actions and strikes to secure better wages and working conditions, they are labeled or tagged as communist supporters or trouble makers, are brutally dispersed from their picketline, and are harassed with “trumped-up” legal cases.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

2015-yearender icon-smallMANILA – Filipino workers have trade union and democratic rights under the Labor Code, fleshed out further in implementing rules and regulations, in orders of the labor department, and in subsequent amendments, Supreme Court decisions and new laws.

Yet, when workers try to assert these rights, they are treated like enemies of the state, are defeated legally in decisions of the Labor department and the courts, and are summarily dismissed from work.

From what happened to workers’ campaigns under Aquino, their experience taught them that they no longer really have a minimum wage because the National Minimum Wage Law is being supplanted in practice by wage rationalization and the two-tiered wage policy; their right to an eight-hour work day has been rendered moot by various labor department orders such as the four-day workweek, flexibilization schemes, and forced unpaid overtime work; their right to security of tenure has been disregarded by DO 18-A, which, labor groups said, legalizes contractualization, and in banks, by Central Bank circulars allowing outsourcing of jobs; and their basic right to a living wage has been attacked as the labor department takes no action on numerous cases of violations of minimum wages, and with the Department of Labor and Employment instituting a new mandated wage it calls as “floor wage,” which set a lower than the already derided as low minimum wages.

Workers’ rights are continuously being constricted because the Aquino administration, and its predecessor have been implementing orders and issuing new orders and amendments that limit or contradict workers’ supposed rights. Workers’ groups who persisted and tried to assert what remains of these labor rights, like what the striking workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc in Cabuyao and the media workers of GMA-7 did, found out to their dismay that they may have their rights confirmed repeatedly on paper, but implementation is another thing.

Filipino workers’ efforts to form new unions encounter many obstacles on the way to registration with the labor department.

“It’s easier for a cross-eyed person to put thread into a needle,” a disgusted first-time unionist from a BPO company once told Bulatlat.com.

The Aquino government and its Liberal Party standard-bearer, Mar Roxas, praise the BPOs as one of its growth drivers, but BPO employees particularly those in more numerous call centers are straining against their condition of being “workers without a voice.” Most are explicitly barred from forming or joining unions.

Until today, despite the claim that BPO employees now number more than half a million, there has been only one union formed under Aquino, and yet it still has to register fully as a certified bargaining agent.

Harassment, trumped-up cases vs unionists hit

Many established and fledgling unions got mired in legal cases when they tried to negotiate for living wages and safe working conditions.

According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), under Aquino, trade unionists continue to be persecuted, imprisoned or harassed. On Aquino’s last Human Rights Day in office, ten trade unionists and labor advocates languish in jail and 293 are facing trumped-up criminal charges.

When workers try to exercise their rights to hold mass actions and strikes to secure better wages and working conditions, they are labeled or tagged as communist supporters or trouble makers, are brutally dispersed from their picketline, and are harassed with “trumped up” legal charges. When they struggle against police or security groups’ manhandling and brutal dispersal, they are slapped with various charges.

Workers of Tanduay Distillery, Karzai, Optodev, Toyota, among others, and labor leaders and organizers in Negros told Bulatlat.com that the filing of trumped up charges against labor leaders, organizers and advocates continues under Aquino.

On December 8, in time for a hearing on such charges filed against labor rights defender Adelberto Silva, workers led by national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) led a picket in front of the Manila Regional Trial Court morning of December 8. They called for the junking of trumped-up cases against Silva, for his immediate release, for the immediate release of nine other labor rights defenders who are in jail, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

Five among the labor rights defenders are consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Aquino government and are long-time organizers in the labor movement: Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Silva, Renante Gamara, and Ernesto Lorenzo.

Silva was president of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Manggagawang Pilipino (Pakmap) before Martial Law while Gamara was a labor leader at General Motors Philippines in the late 1970’s. Sharon Cabusao, who was arrested with her husband Silva, was a former member of the KMU’s Public Information Department.

“These are all unarmed activists who were arrested on the basis of trumped-up charges. All of them are being imprisoned to prevent them from helping organize workers,” said Roger Soluta, KMU vice-president.

Four among the ten were arrested on the basis of a case filed in relation to an ambush carried out by rebel group New People’s Army in April 2012 in Ifugao province.

They are: Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano of public unionism center Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Employment of Government Employees (COURAGE), Gil Corpuz of transport group Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON) in Cagayan Valley, and Rene Boy Abiva of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in Cagayan Valley.

“His father may have been a political detainee himself, but Aquino has been using the Marcosian tactic of imprisoning activists using trumped-up charges. Widespread violation of human rights is one of his most prominent hallmarks of his rule,” Soluta said.

Aside from racking up new cases of rights violations under Aquino, rights defenders noted that calls for justice for the past administration’s victims of extra-judicial killings and other rights violations have also fallen on deaf ears or have been covered by ‘glowing statistics’ in Aquino’s term.

“Murdered trade unionists have yet to receive justice,” the CTUHR said in a report.

The non-government agency also lamented that the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council, which was resurrected from International Labor Organization (ILO) recommendations in 2010, had not helped. Instead, it said, tripartite councils only served as venue by the Aquino administration to legitimize anti-labor policies like DO 18-A that allows subcontracting, thus further eroding the workers right to decent work.

As labor advocates and rights defenders joined the Human Rights commemoration, they reiterated their calls for justice to all victims of human rights violations. They highlighted calls to end what they call as state terrorism under Oplan Bayanihan.

They challenge those vying for government positions in the next election to take a clear and progressive stance to end human rights violations and to hold its perpetrators accountable. ()

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