“This year’s International Labor Day celebration is historically different, there will be no huge demonstrations on the streets in the Philippines and in other countries as well, due to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the calls for living wage, job security amidst lay-off, humane conditions of of work, safe workplaces, right to organize and collectively bargain that send thousands of workers to flood the streets annually are even more glaring now than ever. The pandemic deepens the problems that workers have to face even before the public health crisis and they have no one to lean on but their solidarity and strength. The system has failed them and continues to fail them, said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director.
The workers are hit hardest with the suspension of most economic activities, while others in essential services or even in business process outsourcing suffer from difficulties in transportation, inhumane work hours and unsafe temporary accommodations. The government’s sluggish and inefficient response and assistance even to the most affected only worsened the anxiety that engulfed them. In a recent study of the International Labour Organization (ILO), it estimated that around 1.25 billion workers are at risk of losing their jobs due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. The ILO also calls the current situation as “the most severe crisis since the Second World War.”
Before the pandemic, millions of Filipino workers are beset with unemployment and underemployment. The government continues exporting Filipino workers abroad to ease unemployment and earn from them. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of unemployed increased ten-folds but the Department of Labor and Employment estimated only an additional 2 million. Yet, the government assistance only reached less that 30% of those affected. OFWs suffer from job losses overseas and are coming home and also demanding the P10,000 assistance that they have not received.
Before the crises, workers were barely surviving from low income. The minimum wage remains insufficient for the basic needs of a family. (NCR), the highest at P537 while Region 1 at P282 is the lowest, and many of them are not members of SSS – the agency appointed by the Duterte government to give wage subsidy to workers allegedly in support of SMEs. The lockdown deprives them of this meager income and made them dependent to government assistance that in many places never come. When they find the means to eat, many were arrested and called them `pasaway’, (hard headed).
The Philippine National Police (PNP) reports say that it has documented and apprehended more than 150,000 violators of enhanced community quarantine measures. This includes informal workers who are simply trying to earn a living like Michael Rubuia, the fish vendor whose brutal arrest (because he was not wearing a face mask) was caught on video and went viral on social media. In another incident, on April 5, 19 vegetable vendors were arrested for illegal selling.
Contractualization schemes that are rampant and take away the benefits of workers from job security, social protection and unions or organizations can be exploited in the pretense of COVID 19 response as more employers resort to that under a `new normal’ situation. Similarly unions and those striving to unionize are attacked by both the company managements and state forces under the pretext of crisis response can resort to more abusive practices. On top of 48 killings in the ranks of unionists, farmworkers and labor rights defenders that CTUHR has documented.
On this day and days ahead, we join the workers in calling the Duterte regime not to use the current crisis to heighten attacks against activists and critiques. A day before May 1, known activist in Iloilo City, Jory Parquia was murdered in his house. A union of Coca-Cola in Sta. Rosa, Laguna and several workers were forced to surrender as NPA rebels.
We reiterate our calls and echoes the demand of the people, #AksyongMedikalHindiMlitar. We demand an urgent realignment of government funds to health, to strengthen hospitals and to conduct mass testing to curb the spread of the disease. We call on all on government and employers to test all workers before resuming work operations, hazard pay and give the necessary protection against COVID-19. Lastly, we demand that labor and human rights be respected at all times and not be abused in the pretense of crisis management.#