Crisis for the workers, poor aggravate under Aquino

CTUHR Assessment of Two Years of Aquino Administration

 

Far from the promised change for many Filipinos, quality of jobs, economic condition, and human rights situation of workers and the poor continue to deteriorate as President Aquino enters his third year in office.

The much-lauded economic growth of 6.4% last year did not translate to the development of majority of Filipinos. Economic think-tank Ibon Foundation describes the growth in GDP as “meaningless” that was largely prompted by government spending while more important sectors such as agriculture and industry slowed down.

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Low quality of jobs

While the Aquino government can boast of its 1.02 million employment generation—slashing the unemployment rate from 11% to 10.4%—the quality of jobs available remain low as total number of unemployed and underemployed increased by as much as 780,000. Part time workers also spiked from 6.3 million (17.8%) to 7.3 million (19.3%) in the last two years. Workers in precarious employment (include workers hired on short-term, casual, and seasonal basis) increased by 15% from 4.1 million in 2001 to as much as 5.6 million in 2011. Latest government data in February 2012 also revealed that 2.6 million (32.5% or 1 out of 3) of rank and file workers in enterprises with more than 20 employees are not regular employees (casual, contractual, seasonal, probationary, or apprentice), a 28.1% increase since 2008.

As quality of jobs available in the country slide, more Filipinos are pushed to look for jobs abroad. At least 4000 Filipinos go out of the country everyday to work in foreign lands. This continuing policy on labor export continues to be a core employment strategy of the Aquino government despite its many setbacks on national development and risks to lives and welfare of OFWs.

Brain drain as a result of continuing migration of Filipino Science and Technology (S&T) workers abroad worsened in the last decade. A recent study of the Department of Science and Technology showed that migration of Filipino S&T workers doubled in the last 12 years. From 9,877 S&T workers leaving the country in 1998, the number rose to 24,504 in 2009 with an average yearly growth of 11.4%.

Meanwhile, cases of violence, rights violations against OFWs rose spectacularly in the last two years as reported by Migrante International. From 1,500 cases per year before Aquino took office, OFW cases documented by Migrante rose to a total of 4,500 cases from 2010 towards the end of 2011. Types of violations committed against OFWs has also widened which now include overcharging (of fees i.e. placement fee etc.), illegal recruitment, and massive human trafficking on top of previously known violence against OFWs such as maltreatment and rape. Everyday, six to 10 OFWs reportedly go home dead due to various reasons.

Shortchanged wage hikes amidst rising prices

Wages remain way below the daily cost of living but the government is still obstinate in its position against the workers’ clamor for a P125 legislated wage hike. Although the Aquino administration recently approved a two-tranche P30 wage hike in the National Capital Region (NCR), the P446 minimum wage in the NCR only equates to 44% of the P1017 family living wage in the region. Wage rates outside Manila are even lower—as low as P228 (R1) to only as much as P345.50 (RIV-A).

Another serious threat to workers’ call for substantial and living wage is the new two-tiered wage system (2TWS) recently implemented by the Aquino government in the NCR. 2TWS introduces a two-level wage system: first is the mandatory floor wage and second is the productivity wage. A study of labor research group EILER pointed out that the 2TWS can drag the existing wage rates and deepen the workers’ exploitation mainly because the floor wage is set in accordance to the poverty threshold while the productivity wage will drive workers to produce beyond their capacity despite backward technology. Moreover, compliance to the productivity wage is merely voluntary.

Prices of basic commodities and utilities such as electricity and water continue to rise depressing real wages further. Filipino workers are thus left with no choice but to tighten their belts in order to survive. Compared to 2006 prices, the current P446 minimum wage in NCR is only P345.22 in real terms—which means that the current minimum wage is actually P4.78 lower than the P350 minimum wage in 2006.

Unabated poverty, doubled profits for the rich

Poverty remains widespread in the country despite government attempts to hide the real situation by cutting down the poverty threshold from P52 per day to P46. One out of every 4 Filipino workers are living below the poverty line. The latest SWS (Social Weather Station) survey also showed that still the majority (51%) of Filipino households think they are poor while 39% of Filipino households suffer from hunger. The conditional cash transfer through the Aquino administration’s anti-poverty program (or 4Ps), is at best a band-aid solution and can not promise to uplift the lives of poor.

Amidst this aggravating condition for most Filipinos, the rich continue to accumulate more wealth. In the latest Forbes survey, the accumulated wealth of the 40 richest Filipinos has doubled since 2010. From US$22.8M, their combined wealth rose to US$47.4 M.

More children working to survive

More children are also forced to work to contribute to household income. Latest survey of the National Statistics Office revealed that child labor increased by as much as 30% from 4.2 million in 2001 to 5.5 million in 2011. Majority of these child laborers are found in farms. Children in hazardous work also increased by 25% in the same period.

Displacement of the poor and demolition of homes

Also, the Aquino administration is most notorious in destroying homes of poor communities to give way to so-called government and private development projects. A total of 25 demolition of homes (1 per month) affecting nearly 55,000 families all over the country were recorded within the first two years of Aquino.

Killings and other rights violations continue

State and capitalist violence against the marginalized did not stop despite Aquino’s promise to bring closure to human rights killings. A total of 12 victims of extrajudicial killings from the labor sector (6) and the urban poor (6) were documented in the last two years. None of the killings of both present and past administration have been resolved; justice remains elusive for families and victims of human rights violations.

Other forms of human rights violations were also documented by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights in the first two years of Aquino—most of which can still be attributed to the Aquino government’s version of counter-insurgency, Oplan Bayanihan. A total of 101 cases of civil and political rights violations were committed against 3,000 workers and unionists. Legal offensives (or filing of false criminal charges) intensified as a form of harassment not only unionized and organized labor but also individual workers who have filed complaints of labor standard violations against their employers.

The government hails 2011 as the most “peaceful” year in trade unionism as no strike was recorded. This however does not mean that labor-capitalist disputes no longer occur nor does it mean that disputes were settled in favor of the workers.

Violations of labor standards and other rights at work also continue. CTUHR documentation recorded close to 7,000 workers complaining of underpayment or delayed of minimum wage. Loose government policy on occupational health safety standards and capitalist neglect of these standards have resulted to numerous workplace accidents claiming the lives of at least 73 workers and causing injury to another 100.

Conditions remain hostile to union organizing due to 1) increasing preference of capitalists–and government approval–for contractual labor and 2) continued attacks on existing unions and organizers. To date, only a 1.78 million workers are unionized and only a total of 229,000 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. This means that only 1 out of every 12 wage and salary workers are unionized and only 1 out of 8 unionized workers are covered by collective bargaining agreement.

Despite the already dwindling number of workers covered by the CBA, violations of CBA negotiations are still present. In the last two years, CTUHR documented at nearly 9,000 workers whose right to CBA were compromised. 4,074 of them experienced non-implementation of CBA while another 4,708 were not refused CBA negotiations by the their employers.

Forgotten promises, lost path

Other than its anti-corruption crusade, the Aquino administration failed to address fundamental problems that has perennially plagued Philippine society — poverty, injustice, impunity among others. Like his predecessors, Aquino’s policies and programs are anchored on neoliberal principles like attracting of foreign investments, and increased military power — all of which have been proven in the past to favor capitalists and foreign interest while legitimizing more exploitation and oppression among the people and intensified plunder of our resources. The approval of the new mining policy and the plans to amend the Constitution to favor foreign interest are concrete manifestations of the government’s anti-people policy orientation. Within this context, the workers and people are challenged to strengthen and widen its ranks in order to push for substantial changes and progressive reforms in society that the Aquino government clearly failed to deliver.###