[Statement] Five years of Aquino’s straight path led Filipino workers into poverty, deaths, rights violations -CTUHR


25 July 2015

Five years of Aquino’s straight path led Filipino workers into poverty, deaths, rights violations

Five years of Benigno Aquino III’s “daang matuwid” led Filipinos into a road where beggars and cadavers are scattered due to policies that kept more Filipinos mired in poverty at the same intensifying attacks on trade union and human rights.

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Since Aquino took office in July 2015, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) recorded 554 cases of trade union and human rights violations. Contrary to Aquino’s promise to end human rights killings, there were 24 victims of extra-judicial killings among the workers and the urban poor. Most recent case of EJK within the labor sector was last March 8, 2015, when Florencio “Bong” Romano, an organizer of Organized Labor Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (OLALIA) and a provincial coordinator of the National Coalition for the Protection of Worker’s Rights-Southern Tagalog (NCPWR-ST), was killed. “Ka-Bong” actively participated in the campaign to regularize contractual workers before his dead body was found shot in the chest one morning at Brgy. Soro-Soro, Batangas City.

Workers were burdened not only by mounting pressure from work but were also met with heightened political repression. Cases of harassment, fabrication of criminal charges, detention, and physical assault, totaling to 1,650 recorded victims from 2010 to 2015.

Harassment of trade unions intensified this 2015 as the military desperately seeks to fulfill its target under Oplan Bayanihan, Aquino’s notoriously deceitful counter-insurgency program. At least 32 individuals (leaders, members, staffs and advisers) from the Confederation for Unity Recognition Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) alongside other activists were threatened, intimidated, and put under surveillance by military agents starting April this year.

In the last five years, 290 trade unionists and labor activists were slapped with fabricated criminal charges from petty crimes like stealing to more serious offenses maliciously linked to armed operations of the New People’s Army (NPA) like robbery in band, possession of illegal explosives, and frustrated murder.

Collusion of state and capitalist

Workers holding peaceful and legitimate protests were suppressed with iron hands as demonstrated by the violent dispersals and physical assaults inflicted by “hired goons” of Lucio Tan on Tanduay Distillers Inc. workers. The series of violent dispersals from May 18 to 22 led to 68 injured workers and two others detained. Despite workers plea for help, police and authorities remained as bystanders while goons were beating Tanduay legitimate workers and their supporters. Clearly, these actions violate the workers’ right to peacefully assemble and right to redress. Tanduay workers are struggling to be recognized as permanent workers which the company continue to deny despite the workers’ three to11 years of service as contractual workers.

The Aquino regime fostered conditions hostile to unions as shown by 27 cases discrimination against trade unionists, and 43 cases of union busting and 47 cases of harassment of unionists in the workplace Unionization rate remains very low at 8.6 percent of to total wage workers or roughly only 1.95 million out of the total 22.64 million wage workers as of June 2015. Of this unionized workers, only 202,517 are covered by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as of June 2015 leaving more than 20 million wage workers virtually at the mercy of their employers, powerless to negotiate better wages and benefits. . Thus, government and employer propaganda that wage increase can happen through CBA negotiation is is plainly ridiculous, a wicked slap on the face of minimum wage earners.

Even with this low unionization rate and a tiny number of workers covered by CBAs, there were still 152 combined cases of violations of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining affecting over 11,000 workers from 2010 to 2015. In the last five years, capitalists became much bolder to deny this right as the number of unions shrinks and ability to effect demands weakens.

Aquino’s policy to increase labor flexibility relentlessly attacked workers right to security of tenure as cases of retrenchment and illegal dismissals become rampant thereby bloating the number of unemployed and workers in precarious jobs. The cases of outsourcing of Philippine Airlines in 2010, the massive retrenchment of thousands of workers in Hoya Glass Disk and Carina Apparel last year dismissal of over 200 GMA Network employees (editors, cameramen, mediaworkers, etc.) who served the network from a range of 2 to 18 years are few cases in point. Four years of implementation since 2011, DOLE Department Order 18-A s2011 ably facilitated the rapid erosion of workers’ right to security of tenure, aiding the destruction of regular jobs while boosting short-term or contractual employment. In Tanduay for example, workers were forced to sign a one-year service agreement after many years in service to the company–those who refused were dismissed. DOLE DO 18-A is being used by labor contractors to legalize unjust contracting out practices, divesting principal employers of their responsibility to the workers.

Under Aquino, the public witnessed the deaths of at least 206 workers in 34 workplace accidents as in the case of Kentex factory fire last May 13, where 74 workers (45 were women) were burned to death in the worst factory fire in thehistory of Philippine industries. Last July 18, nine workers in Semirara Coal Mining, a company that uses open-pit mining, in Antique were buried alive from erosion of 500 tons of soil. . Prior to these,there were 11 Eton workers who died instantly when the gondola they were riding collapsed, 17 women workers in Novo Jeans burned to death , 3 septic tank workers trapped, 5 Keppel workers were crushed to death when the foundation of a stern ramp to a docked ship collapsed. All these deaths could have been avoided if capitalists and and Department of Labor and Employment had not only look at productivity and profit and if implementation of occupational safety and health standards are stricter and government had not left this to company’s voluntary compliance. DO 57-04 and DOLE’s Department Order 131-13 that replaced it failed miserably.

Enriching the few by impoverishing the poor majority

Aquino’s government has been trying to convince the Filipino people of the promise of sustained economic growth. But growth for whom? The disparity between the rich and the poor had only widened as wages were kept depressed and dragged further down by the two-tier wage system which replaces “minimum wage” with a “floor wage” that is largely pegged to the poverty threshold of 1.25 USD a day. At present, the highest minimum wage of P481, which does not even come close to the cost of everyday living for an averaged Filipino family of six which is P1,088 a day. In other regions, real wages have fallen by as much as 21 percent. Even then, an outstanding 46 percent of the nation’s workers are still paid under the minimum wage. This puts to shame AYALA, Corp. net income of 14.8 Billion Php for the year 2014 alone.

Joblessness and precarity continue to hound millions of Filipino workers with unemployment in the country still among the highest in the ASEAN region for the past five years despite the much-touted “robust” economy. It seems that economic growth to Aquino is 15.8 million Filipino unemployed and 7 out of 10 workers in precarious (contractual or informal) employment. The government’s labor export policy continue to push Filipinos to seek employment abroad as exposed by the the number of OFWs deployed yearly outpacing the the number of job opportunities within the country.

Clearly, Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” has led Filipinos to deepened poverty and suffering. But BS Aquino’s last state of the nation address (SONA) draws near and his “daang matuwid” reaches its dead-end, the Filipinos are now ready themselves to corner and collect a president’s five-year debts.

For reference: Daisy Arago, Executive Director, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, +63.2.4110256; +63.916.248.4876

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