Regularization tops Labor Day demands
WORKERS’ groups marked Labor Day on Sunday with marches and speeches lamenting poor wages, irregular jobs, risky workplaces, high cost of living, rising unemployment and inadequate social insurance.
Across the country, the call for a stop to the practice of contractualization or “endo” (end of contract) echoed. Under the contractualization scheme, workers are hired for five months without security of tenure and benefits, and are terminated as their contracts expire but rehired under a new but similar deal.
Amid the dire straits Filipino workers find themselves in, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa warned against what it claimed to be the rise of a “new right” or neofascists in Philippine politics.
The group particularly voiced out its apprehension over front-runners Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively.
“Desperate for change, the voters, especially the rich, the middle class and even many from the masses are now opting for supposedly ‘instant solutions,’ paving the way for the rise of ‘neofascists’ like Duterte and Marcos,” said Sentro secretary general Josua Mata.
“[But] ultimately, real change can only come from conscious and organized people who have powerful labor or trade union movement and other progressive social movements,” he added.
Malacañang quietly observed Labor Day, the last time under the term of President Aquino, who steps down at the end of next month.
Asked why the President did not hold any meeting with labor leaders on May 1 as he had done in the past, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a text message, “The focus of President Aquino has always been on purposive, concrete actions and delivery of essential services, rather than commemorative events.”
Coloma said he could not recall the President meeting with labor leaders last year.
At Rajah Sulayman Park in Manila’s Malate district, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said inclusive growth remained elusive for the labor sector because the mechanisms for it to flow down to the rank-and-file remained broken.
“The wealth our local and overseas Filipino workers has been helping to create has sustained our economy so well that we have been ranked as among the best-performing economies in Asia. But that prosperity still remains in the hands of the elite few of our society,” said TUCP president Raymond Mendoza.
Workers have complained that due to inflation, the purchasing power of the P481-daily minimum wage in Metro Manila has been reduced to P316, lower than the government’s estimate of P417 for food and nonfood needs.
They also criticized the administration for rejecting income tax reduction, withdrawing government subsidy to the mass transport trains, vetoing an increase in social security pension, failing to stop the rising cost of electricity, and not doing enough to deal with the jobs-skills mismatch that has worsened unemployment and underemployment.
About 3,000 people trooped to Mendiola on Sunday to call on the government to end endo.
“We’ve been asking for this for years already and yet nothing is happening,” said Sanlakas leader Leody de Guzman. Workers, he said, should be regularized primarily because their needs were regular, too.
Buhay na may Dignidad, also known as Dignidad, also called for an end to contract-only hiring.
From Quezon City, Dignidad ran up to Mendiola, bearing placards that urged the government to deal with issues besetting the labor force.
The group said laborers should be ensured “decent work for all—with full employment, living wage and respect for workers’ rights, including right to social security.”
“We are running to call the attention of our leaders to address serious unemployment, informalization of work and the broader inequality problems in the country,” said Fr. Robert Reyes, who led about 500 members in the run to Mendiola.
In Southern Tagalog, Labor Day activities started early on Sunday with “community hops” in the cities of Santa Rosa, Cabuyao and Calamba in Laguna province; in Rosario town in Cavite province; in Batangas City in Batangas province; and in Antipolo City in Rizal province.
By noon, the activists converged in Calamba for the rally for Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) workers.
Led by the militant Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-Kilusang Mayo Uno (Pamantik-KMU), the workers demanded higher minimum wages and an end to contractualization.
“We call for an end to contractualization and to raise the minimum wage to P750 a day for workers in the private sector and P16,000 a month for the public sector,” said Paul Carson, Pamantik media liaison.
On Panay Island, some 12,500 people joined the rallies, demanding jobs, higher wages, and an end to contractualization.
Protesters in Iloilo, Aklan and Capiz provinces led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) challenged presidential candidates to ban contractualization if they get elected.
In Iloilo City, about 5,000 people marched from four assembly points before converging at the Jaro District public plaza where a program was held. They demanded a P16,000 per month minimum wage for government employees.
In Roxas City in Capiz, about 4,500 joined a rally at the provincial park and Plaza Bandstand. Farmers, who were among the demonstrators, demanded government assistance after their crops were damaged by El Niño.
In the capital town of Kalibo in Aklan, around 3,000 assembled from Crossing Banga and Numancia town before holding a rally at the Pastrana Park.
In Northern Mindanao, KMU led more than 2,000 workers, mostly from Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, to a rally, calling on the government to give workers the right to security of tenure and wage increases.
Tita Hadma, KMU regional spokesperson, said no one from the presidential candidates had committed to scrapping the contractualization. Because of this, she said, the group was still undecided on whom to vote for President on May 9.
At the TUCP rally, Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas reiterated his commitment to put an end to endo.
Other presidential candidates also pledged to end the practice, aimed at avoiding paying workers benefits due them if they were regularized.
Other labor groups said next week’s national and local elections could be an opportunity to find a way to solve the problems confronting the labor sector.
Mendoza said the TUCP and its allies in the Nagkaisa labor coalition were lobbying to make presidential candidates sign a contract detailing concrete steps in working out solutions to problems of Filipino workers and their families.
The draft document calls for ending contractualization and enacting laws to boost security of tenure, across-the-board wage increase for all workers nationwide combined with appropriate tax reforms, subsidies and social transfers, and overhaul of the country’s wage-fixing mechanisms, beginning with the abolition of the regional wage boards to be subsumed under a national wage-setting office.
The Duterte camp said Mr. Aquino had done little to address the woes of poor Filipino workers and their families.
The administration claim that it was successful in providing jobs to Filipinos was “all fiction,” said Leoncio Evasco Jr., national campaign manager of Duterte.
Evasco said there were still some 11.2 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos, a number that validated the lack of unemployment opportunities under the Aquino administration.
But Coloma said the workers were far better off under the Aquino administration than the previous one as it had created more jobs and granted them higher pay raises and tax benefits.
Citing statistics from the labor department, Coloma said 6.657 million jobs were created from 2011 to 2015, or almost 2 million jobs more than the 4.72 million created in 2005-2010 under the Arroyo administration.
Daily minimum wages have increased to P228-P493 from P142-P414 in the previous administration, according to Coloma.
He said the administration also raised tax-free benefits from P87,450 to P105,187. As a result, he said benefits under collective bargaining agreements and productivity pay of P10,000, as well as clothing and uniform allowance, daily meal allowance and night differential pay, were paid in full and without taxes.
The Philippine National Police said the country’s observance of Labor Day was generally peaceful.
A standoff between protesters and policemen was observed on Roxas Boulevard and United Nations Avenue, near the US Embassy.
Those who joined the rallies in Ilocos Sur province and the cities of Cebu, General Santos, Baguio, Butuan and Masbate dispersed peacefully. Reports from Jerome Aning, Aie Balagtas See, DJ Yap, Julie M. Aurelio and Christine O. Avendaño in Metro Manila; Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas; and Jigger J. Jerusalem, Inquirer Mindanao
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