What Duterte must do for workers

May 27, 2016

(published on May 27, 2016 @ the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte said he will stop labor contractualization in this country. He said he doesn’t want companies firing workers after five months to avoid giving them the right wages and benefits.

We commend Duterte’s resolve to end the practice of contractualization, which has long deprived workers not only of just wages and rights, but also of their dignity as human beings.

Seven out of 10 Filipino workers are holding precarious jobs. We count on Duterte’s promise to provide Filipino workers security of tenure by repealing laws that legalize this practice and thereafter hold accountable employers making use it. It will be a great service to Filipino families if a member does not have to find a job abroad to sustain his family. We also urge Duterte to remedy the dire working conditions in factories and workplaces across the country.

How ironic that during the Aquino administration our GDP growth rates surpassed those of our Asian neighbors but did not result in higher incomes for our workers. One out of every five Filipinos below the poverty line is classified working poor. We call on the incoming president to heed the workers’ demand to bring wage rates closer to living standards and raise the daily minimum wage in the private sector to P750. Similarly, we call on Duterte to increase the salaries of government employees, the very same people who implement his plan for the people.

Raising wages and salaries is logical and practical: Higher incomes raise the workers’ purchasing power and, therefore, boost consumption and help the economy.

We also hope that with his labor secretary, Duterte will seriously look into and curb the pervasive corporate violations of labor laws and occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that put at risk the lives of workers. We urge the Duterte administration to work on the immediate passage of the OSH bill which seeks to criminalize OSH standards violators. In the same vein, we hope that Duterte’s malasakit extends to those affected by occupational deaths—like the 74 victims of the Kentex fire, by serving justice to their families, and by holding the responsible government and company officials accountable for the deaths.

So that workers can actively and consciously protect their rights from abuses and harm, participate in discourses and creative actions that will effect genuine change in the next six years of his leadership, we urge Duterte to uphold workers’ right to organize unions freely. It is the workers’ means to achieving social justice and it gives them some guarantee that they will benefit from economic growth.

For the past two decades, the neoliberal policies implemented by previous administrations, as well as the state-capitalist measures, have shrunk the number of workers’ unions and unionized workers, leaving workers with very little, if any, protection. Union organizing is a right guaranteed by international and local laws. We strongly urge Duterte to repeal the “assumption of jurisdiction” powers of the labor secretary that undermine the workers’ right to strike and have cost the lives of many strikers.

Lastly, we pray that Duterte finds wisdom in the people’s demands to abandon the neoliberal policies that continue to drag the  workers and the poor deeper into poverty. We support his openness to address the root causes of armed conflicts by paving the way for just and lasting peace through peace negotiations. We look forward to seeing all political prisoners embracing their families, colleagues and comrades outside their detention cells.

We wish the incoming president good health so that he will be able to realize his vision to lift the Filipino people from centuries of oppression.

—SR. EMELINA VILLEGAS, ICM, president of board of trustees, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights Inc., pie.ctuhr@gmail.com