“There are more than 20 million contractual workers in the country. Until we see massive regularization, expect more workers to flood the streets in protest.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The labor sector burned an effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte for the first time at the recent May 1 celebration in Manila. It marked a turning point for the sector which, for the past two years, worked hard to meet the president halfway to craft policies on ending contractualization.
Ending contractualization was President Duterte’s “marching order” to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III. But the labor sector rejected the Department Order that Bello eventually issued to supposedly end contractualization. This May 1, the Executive Order to end contractualization that President Duterte signed is a similar pro-employer compromise, labor leaders said during the May 1 protest at Mendiola.
The Duterte regime’s entire policy package, in fact, is being viewed by workers as hostile to the working majority. Rochel Porras, executive director of labor thinktank Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, said the 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda, Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, and AmBisyon Natin 2040 maintain the anti-worker policies of previous administrations. “The plans further engulf the economy to debts and cheapen labor cost in the country at the expense of workers’ wages and job security,” Porras said.
The May 1 protesters expected no help from the president or from his vows against ENDO (end of contract or contractualization), except for what they could successfully push the government to do. In a speech at Mendiola, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ayik Casilao urged the gathering to prepare for holding a Welgang Bayan (general strike), for the drivers to prepare for holding transport strikes, and for the students and teachers to also hold school-wide strikes.
Many labor leaders expressed joy and renewed vigor at their historical show of unity. They also attributed to the huge workers’ mass action the sudden compulsion of President Duterte to sign an EO in Cebu supposedly addressing contractualization. But they all clarified the struggle to end ENDO is still not yet over.
“There are more than 20 million contractual workers in the country. Until we see massive regularization, expect more workers to flood the streets in protest,” said Jhen Pajel, spokesperson of KILOS NA Manggagawa. “This may be another attempt to divide our ranks and deflect people’s attention from our struggle to end contractualization,” she added.
Historic joint activity of diverse labor groups
A first in nearly 30 years, labor groups representing different spectrum and political beliefs gathered and marched together to Mendiola. For years, they have been rivals and conducted separate May 1 activities. But their longing to end contractualization and address the wage freeze facilitated their increased solidarity.
The leaders of various major labor groups in the country held a symbolic group signing of their unity statement at Mendiola on May 1.
Present at the joint May 1 activity are member and allied unions, federations and alliances of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, Nagkaisa Labor Coalition, Federation of Free Workers. Within these labor groups are a veritable alphabet soup of federations such as NAFLU-KMU, NFWU, AGLO, IBM, NFL, AGUILA, PUP SPEAK , UFSW, PM, PALEA, among others.
Intensifying people’s struggles
“Contractualization has plagued the working class of the Philippines after the Herrera Law was enacted in 1989, causing precarious employment, denial of rights to freedom of expression and association, and denial of benefits, leading to the accumulation of larger and larger amounts of profit for Contractual Kings such as Henry Sy and Tony Tan Caktiong,” Sarah Elago of Kabataan Partylist said on May 1.
Filipino workers are driven to protest by intensifying poverty. In turn, these are blamed on policies such as the tax hike from TRAIN, the hike in fees due to privatization, and the dismal rate of wage hikes. Many of the May 1 protesters are in the midst of a struggle for their jobs and for wage adjustments.
Some, like the workers in economic zones, are preparing against retrenchments and more contractualization. Some, like the Coke workers, have just come from a strike. Their victories in forcing employers to raise wages and regularize contractuals are praised on May 1 – and consequently, the “power of collective, militant action,” as Elago noted.
After launching a strike, the unionists of Coke succeeded in getting more than a hundred workers regularized by the company — when it had announced impending layoffs. The regularization is just an implementation of a long-standing decision by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), but the workers had to launch a strike first before they managed to get it implemented.
Last May 1, the historic joint activity of KMU and Nagkaisa labor coalition agreed that working together and actively pushing for their demands are the things to do as they said the politicians won’t do it by their own accord.
At the May 1 protest in Manila, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay scored the government response to the people’s demand for change and accountability. They noted that Duterte has turned to fascism, intensifying the state forces’ hounding of labor leaders, harassing communities to threaten unionists, killing thousands on mere suspicion of involvement in the drugs trade, criminalizing workers’ organizing and mass actions.
The leaders of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) demanded the immediate release of their former consultant, Rafael Baylosis, his son-in-law and workers’ organizer Maoj Maga, workers’ organizer Ferdinand Castillo, among others.
The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights slammed the military operations in regions where workers in huge foreign-controlled plantations are unionizing. The workers condemned the military practice of threatening the unionists whom they tagged as members or supporters of armed revolutionaries. CTUHR said state troops have been forcing trade unionists affiliated with Kilusang Mayo Uno, for instance, to surrender as New People’s Army (NPA) supporters.
The CTUHR documented harassments and threats against unionists and their families such as those from Shin Sun Tropical Fruits, SUMIFRU Packing Plants, Fresh Max banana plantations in Compostela Valley. It also denounced the so-called security forums being held by various companies. The CTUHR found out that in fact, what’s being conducted are anti-union seminars, “a clear affront to rights to freedom of association.”
“This Labor Day, we vow to fight and defeat Duterte’s tyranny and creeping dictatorship. Duterte’s fascist tactics — his killing spree of unionists and labor rights advocates, the persecution of his political opponents, and the criminalization and terrorist tagging of workers’ and people’s legitimate dissent — must stop,” the KMU said in a statement.
This year’s historic Labor Day nationwide protest marks the beginning of workers’ growing unity and resistance against Duterte’s oppressive and tyrannical rule, said Elmer “Bong” Labog. Labor day rallies were also held in other cities in the Philippines.