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May Day demands across PH: Higher pay, stronger voice

MANILA, Philippines — Tens of thousands of workers and their allies rallied around the country on Labor Day, demanding higher pay, job security and a strong voice in Congress in elections two weeks away.

The militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) are demanding a daily nationwide minimum wage of P750 for private sector workers and a minimum monthly pay of P16,000 for state employees.

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Speaking at a rally in Iloilo City, Roxanne Arsaga, KMU Panay spokesperson, said the current minimum wage was not enough to meet workers’ daily needs, adding that “our situation has worsened” after the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

Labor groups and their supporters held separate rallies and marches in Metro Manila on Wednesday, drawing thousands carrying red banners and placards.

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Nagkaisa Labor Coalition (Nagkaisa) said up to 50,000 joined the May Day rallies and protests across the country, 30,000 of them in Metro Manila.

Police Col. Bernard Banac, Philippine National Police spokesperson, placed the count at only a little more than 8,000.

Solidarity at Mendiola

In Mendiola, militant and moderate labor groups converged in a show of solidarity among labor unions and different party-list groups.

KMU joined the rally with  Nagkaisa and other groups, including Trade Union Congress Party, Partido ng Mangagawa, Alab Katipunan, Akbayan Party, Philippine Airlines Employees Association and Philippine Government Employees Association.

In a rare gesture of unity, KMU and Nagkaisa members marched to Davao City’s Freedom Park to press for the P750 national minimum wage and an end to contractualization.

In Manila, Nagkaisa leader and labor lawyer Allan Montaño lamented that while a law ending labor-only contracting was passed by the House of Representatives, it remained pending in the Senate.

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At the end of the day’s program at Mendiola, the protesters burned an effigy of President Duterte depicting him as a demon wielding an assault rifle.

Negros killings

Those who joined the rallies in Panay and Cebu City also protested against extrajudicial killings, particularly on Negros Island.

They demanded justice for slain Escalante City Councilor Bernardino “Toto” Patigas Sr. and the 14 farmers killed by police and soldiers in Negros Oriental.

“Drums and drums of blood have been spilled by the Duterte administration in attacks against activists, human rights defenders, lawyers and drug suspects,” said Reylan Vergara, vice chair of the human rights group Karapatan.

Carlo Olalo, secretary general of KMU Southern Mindanao, said workers were getting frustrated over the worsening labor conditions in the region, where massive agricultural plantations and mines operate.

He expressed an “urgent demand” to stop state forces who allegedly attacked labor unions, Red-tagged and harassed unionists.

Davao City protest

“The attacks are increasing and this must be stopped,” Olalo said.

He said one union was totally “pacified” in Compostela Valley province after state agents  threatened to harm members who would not leave the group.

At least 242 union members, who feared for their safety, are now inactive, Olalo said.

He said police also tried to stop the May Day protest in Davao City, arresting even those on motorcycles on the way to the rally.

Danilo Balucio, secretary general of Bayan Bicol, said Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Kabataan, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, KMU, Kilusang Magbubukid, Anakbayan and Condor-Piston, demanded an end to contractualization and the abolition of the TRAIN law and the regional wage boards.

Baguio battlecry

Rallies were held at Cory Aquino Park in Daraga, Albay; Plaza Quezon in Naga City, Camarines Sur; Daet town Plaza, in Camarines Norte; Sorsogon Capitol grounds in Sorsogon City; Magallanes Plaza in Masbate City; and in Virac, Catanduanes.

KMU and Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) members and activists marched down Session Road in Baguio City.

Geraldine Cacho, chair of CPA-Tongtongan ti Umili (People’s Forum), urged voters to choose candidates in the May 13 elections “who will fight for the rights and welfare of the oppressed.”

She conceded, however, that elections alone would not solve all the country’s problems, such as poverty, job insecurity and unjust labor practices.

“We can only rely on our own strength in unity and collective action to change the present unjust system,” Cacho said.

Babae Bantayan ang Eleksyon, or Babae Network, an alliance of women leaders and organizations that monitor fraud and violence during elections, called on workers and labor unions to “carefully discern” who among the candidates would uphold their causes.

The Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) said women workers, in particular, suffer from “worsening work conditions” and that they were also crying for regularization, higher wages and safer workplaces.

Challenge to be a woman

Most women workers are salary earners in the manufacturing and retail sectors, with nonregular and low-wage jobs, the group said.

“It is already a challenge to be a woman in a country that is led by macho-fascist, misogynistic leaders, but it is even more difficult to be a working woman in a country plagued with poverty, incessant price increases, labor flexibilization, limited work opportunities and unsafe work conditions,” the CWR said in a statement.

Citing data from the Gender Statistics on Labor and Employment, the center said about 4.7 million women work in the wholesale and retail trade, while another 1.4 million work in the manufacturing industry.

Only 125,000 women, or a mere 0.30 percent of the total workforce, are engaged in professional and scientific work, it added.

The Philippine Statistics Authority also reported that 2.58 million women were engaged in short-term or seasonal jobs in 2017—as “kasambahay,” promodizer, or sales personnel—and 297,000 more serve different employers on a day-to-day or a week-to-week basis.

Babae Network said the unemployment rate among women reached 5.2 percent by the end of 2018. This meant that more than 800,000 Filipino women were jobless.

Underemployment was 13.4 percent last year.

As a Labor Day gesture, the government staged job fairs, offering thousands of mostly local employment opportunities.

The Dole in Eastern Visayas said it had 7,265 job offerings from 32 establishments and 12 recruitment agencies in Tacloban City. Another 2,504 vacancies were offered by 19 establishments in Ormoc City.

Around 4,000 jobseekers flocked to a mall in Davao City for the two-day job fair organized by the government.

—With reports from Mariejo S. Ramos, Aie Balagtas See, Jaymee T. Gamil, Lissa Lagmay, Nestor P. Burgos Jr, Ador Vincent Mayol, Joey Gabieta, Karlos Manlupig, Orlando Dinoy, Vincent Cabreza, Kimberlie Quitasol, Yolanda Sotelo, Ma. April Mier-Manjares and Kimmy Baraoidan

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TAGS: Labor Day 2019, minimum wage hike, workers’ rights
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