FEATURE

Faces of labor repression in Aquino’s four years

5 July 2014   In stark contrast to government claims that there are no problems with workers’ rights, trade union repression and rights violations against workers and unionists, alongside deepening poverty of working population, characterize the labor scene under BS Aquino’s four years in office. Blatant union suppression prevails under the Aquino government. From June 2010 to June 2014, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights documented at least 36 cases of union busting covering nearly 10,000 workers. When only 230,000 workers of less than 2 million unionized workforce are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), violations and non-implementation of these agreements are still happening with at least 40 cases documented in the same period. Killings of trade unionists and urban poor leaders have not stopped with 17 cases and 18 victims of extrajudicial killings. Over 200 individuals were charged with false criminal charges due to political acts (or beliefs) or labor disputes. And another 25 cases of threat, harassment, intimidation against workers and unionists were documented from June 2010 to December 2013. Last May 03, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz denied the findings of the International Trade UnionConfederation (ITUC) 2014 Global Rights Index Report which cited the Philippines as among the worst countries in the world of work for workers. Trade union centers like Kilusang Mayo Uno however affirmed ITUC’s findings said that the attacks made by the government, especially that of Aquino’s, on workers’ rights to form unions, collectively bargain and hold strikes have indeed made the Philippines one of the worst countries for workers. CTUHR Executive Director Daisy Arago also refuted DOLE’s statement saying it is “a big lie” “Maybe she is referring to another country. Or perhaps she considers the public including the world’s biggest trade union center unthinking when she said that the [ITUC] report does not necessarily concern workers rights.” Arago added. Blatantly violating lawful rights of workers Accounts of union suppression disprove Baldoz’s assertion that there is “industry advocacy for workers rights.” On the contrary, capitalists were as ever bold in transgressing lawful rights of workers.

NXP workers protest dismissal of 24 union leaders. Photo by: Mayday Production

The dismissal of 24 NXP unionleaders recently is a case in point. All 24 union leaders NXP were sacked on May 05 for not going to work on three official holidays including Labor Day. Just April this year, no less than Labor Secretary Baldoz herself reminded employers to observe the holidays or pay twice the daily wage to workers working during regular holidays. This, however, did not deter the NXP management from dismissing the union leaders. Moreover, the dismissal of NXP union leaders happened amid ongoing collective bargaining negotiations as the company insists on a meager wage increase for the next 3 years. And even when workers have fought and won victories in courts ordering companies to “reinstate” illegally dismissed workers, companies continue to harass workers subjecting them to inhumane conditions and stripping off their dignity. Worse than imprisoned In Pasig city, nine (9) workers of Papertech Inc, a supplier of various kinds of tissue papers to luxury hotels have been locked inside a warehouse for eight hours, six days a week for almost six months now. They are kept in isolation to other workers in a warehouse that has poor ventilation (having only a very small window close to the ceiling). These workers are unionists who began union organizing in 2008 but were harassed and demoted to other work assignments. When they protested, the company slapped them with illegal strike and immediately dismissed them. They fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, and last year (2013) won. The SC ordered the company to reinstate the workers with full back wages and other benefits due them.
​Nine Papertech workers kept inside a dark and poorly ventilated warehouse after being 'reinstated.'

​Nine Papertech workers kept inside a dark and poorly ventilated warehouse after being 'reinstated.'

Papertech Inc did “reinstate” the workers but denied them their previous work positions. The nine workers were isolated from the rest of the workers and all other provisions of the SC decision were not implemented. The workers attempted to lodge complaints but the management transferred them to the warehouse. Each of them was made to occupy the corners of the warehouse, alone. They were told to read and memorize the company rules and regulations and other documents that the guards handed them and they were required to pass ‘examinations’ given by the company. Danny Paras, a machine operator and union president, narrated that they have to achieve at least 90 percent each of three 100-item examinations per week. The ‘exams’ consists of psychological tests, neurological tests, abstract reasoning, good manufacturing practices, quality control system, hazard analysis among others. On May 24, Rodel Sustiguer, one of the nine workers, was suspended for four days because he blinked his eyes while reading the papers, which was construed as sleeping while on duty. Their ordeal seemed not enough. To ensure that they have no contact with other workers, a portable toilet (portalet) was placed inside the warehouse. The portalet was seldom cleaned thus filling the entire warehouse with foul odors from feces and urine. There is also no potable water; they have to buy bottled water outside the factory while being escorted by armed security guards. Their complaints are met with retorts that they should not complain because they are being paid for being inside the warehouse. Workers in Bacolod treated like calves Workers of Bacolod Columbia Marketing, a distribution Company in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, suffered the same cruel treatment from their management after being ‘reinstated’ in 2013. Sixty BCM workers are made to stay in a 4x4 m barricaded fence (made of wire mesh) inside the company garage where they inhale all the smoke from company vehicles used to pick up good for delivery.
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A BCM worker holds to the fence of structure where they stay their entire working hours

On October 2012, BCM workers of then newly-organized BCM Workers Association went on strike on grounds of unfair labor practice and illegal dismissal of other co-unionists. By November 9, 2012, the Labor Secretary assumed jurisdiction over the strike and ordered all the workers to go back to work. The company ‘reinstated’ the 60 workers, but same with Papertech workers, they did not get their previous posts back. Instead the company required them to stay outside the work area and spend 8 hours with nothing to do. On March 5, 2013, the management installed a barricaded fence in the company garage where the workers were made to stay for 8 hours killing time. Failing to go inside the fence meant that one is absent from work and will not receive the day’s salary. Such inhumane condition was experienced by all 60 reinstated workers including two women one of whom was conceiving a child at the time for months.
​'Reinstatement' for BCM unionists meant staying in a cage-like structure for 8 hours in the company garage where they take in all the smoke emitted by company vehicles.

​'Reinstatement' for BCM unionists meant staying in a cage-like structure for 8 hours in the company garage where they take in all the smoke emitted by company vehicles.

Because of the nature of their ‘reinstatement’, the workers also did not receive their benefits like 5 days incentive leaves. Work days per pay period were reduced from 13 to 11 days. Social Security System (SSS) and housing loans were not also allowed. The workers filed complaints to the DOLE who later ordered the management to treat the workers humanely. But this was ignored by the company. This awful situation forced the workers to gradually accept the severance offer of the management. To date, only 13 of the 60 workers remained ‘going to work,’ spending hours in the barricaded fence as they continue to fight for their right to proper reinstatement at the same time resist the company’s ploy to dishearten them. Denying responsibility, embedding impunity Countless faces of labor repression shows us a clear backdrop of Aquino administration’s (mal)achievements for the workers in the last four years. But by denying the real state of workers’ rights, it equally frees itself from any responsibility to enforce the law, to make companies accountable to their violations, and more importantly to institute changes in practices, policies, and laws detrimental to workers’ rights. It is thus unsurprising that after four years, past cases of human rights atrocities committed against trade unionists and workers never moved an inch closer to justice. Worse, impunity for labor rights and human rights violations has deepened—ever emboldening capitalists to further exploit workers and suppress, even retaliate against, workers’ concerted actions and victories. Amid all these, the Aquino government is still gloating in its self-professed success and right path. Painting illusory images of ‘labor-friendly’ industry practices and industrial peace, it can do no more than say “we are doing OK”, as if such is enough to efface a grotesque reality.###