Mayhem in Labor Chief’s Power
Workers say ‘assumption of jurisdiction’ is anti-labor
The labor secretary’s
“assumption of jurisdiction” power is being used to ban all strikes and
has caused bloodshed in the workers front. This is like reliving martial law,
militant labor unions say.
Is the labor
department running a reign of terror at strike sites?
This question is
being asked on the workers front amid the rising incidence of labor
strikes that are violently broken up by police and military forces on
orders of Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas. Because of this, several
workers have died, scores injured and several other strikers arrested in
assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) powers, Sto. Tomas ordered the
intervention of police and military forces mid-November to break up the
strike staged by some 6,000 plantation and sugar mill workers at Hacienda
Luisita in Tarlac north of Manila. The result: the violent dispersal of
the picketlines resulting in the massacre of at least seven striking
workers on Nov. 16.
Last week, labor
groups from Southern Tagalog took turns denouncing the Department of Labor
and Employment (DoLE) saying that AJ orders bring more hostility and
misery to workers.
Leaders of the
Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-Kilusang Mayo Uno (Pamantik-KMU
or united workers in Southern Tagalog – May First Movement) said the AJ
order deputizes the military and police forces to brutally disperse
with the Hacienda Luisita case, Pamantik leaders cited the violent
dispersal of strikes at Nestle, Nissan Motors, Soutech, Jac Liner, Tritran
Bus and other companies in Southern Tagalog. The dispersal operations were
apparently triggered by DoLE’s AJ orders and the police-military
Assault on women workers
Two weeks after the
Luisita massacre on Nov. 30, a combined force of the military's Special
Warfare Action Group (SWAG), the local Philippine National Police (PNP)
and security guards armed with truncheons and other weapons broke up the
picketline of some 80 women striking workers of Sun Ever Lights
Philippines at the Laguna Technopark in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Reports said
some of the striking workers were beaten up with truncheons, lassoed,
their hair strangled and sexually-molested during the assault.
Luz Baculo, secretary
general of Pamantik, told Bulatlat that human rights volunteers negotiated
with the police that the striking workers be given food and those wounded
given first aid treatment, but the police chief refused.
Sun Ever is
Baculo also accused
Sto. Tomas of abusing her powers so as to favor company employers. The
labor secretary has been asked by some senators and several sectors to
resign in the light of her role in the Hacienda Luisita massacre. She has
ignored the clamor.
Art. 263 (g) of the
Labor Code states that the DoLE secretary shall have the power to assume
jurisdiction in all industrial strikes considered as "indispensable to the
Labor unions on the
other hand describe the AJ power as repressive and as being open to abuse
by DoLE. For that matter, “national interest” is so vague but it has been
cited as basis for the AJ in all types of labor strikes.
The Code thus implies
that once the order is issued, a strike can be declared illegal. Workers
going on strike are then compelled to return to their workplaces; failing
to comply would mean job termination.
leader of Nestle Philippines' labor union and chairman of the National
Coalition for the Protection of Worker's Rights in Southern Tagalog (NCPWR-ST),
says that the AJ became part of the Labor Code as “a tool to ban the
worker's right to strike."
that in 1972, the regime of Ferdinand Marcos imposed a total ban of all
strikes and public demonstrations under his General Order No. 5.
"We should not be
cowed by repression and violence,” Fortuna says. “Look at the Nestle
workers’ experience. Strikers defied the AJ order because they believe
government should uphold the Supreme Court's decision declaring the
retirement plan as a legitimate issue in the negotiations. This is already
part of our legal jurisprudence which the DoLE must follow.”
Profits boom but worker's pay slips
One cause of many
labor strikers is the freezing of wages, a company policy supported by the
government. Yet corporate profit is reportedly increasing. Last week,
newspapers cited reports by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)
that the export earnings of companies in economic zones have reached $25.6
billion in the first 10 months of 2004, a 14 percent increase compared to
$22.49 billion in the same period last year.
Among all economic
zones, the Laguna Technopark in Southern Tagalog remains the single
leading export performer with $6.51 billion. There are more than 50
private and government-run economic zones within Calabarzon (Cavite,
Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).
authorities claim that employment in the region rose by 11.2 percent. Just
the same, contractual workers continue to outnumber the regulars with
399,000 direct hired and 598,000 indirectly employed. The contractual
workers have neither social benefits nor job security.
Even the Wage Order
No. 9 implemented last November by the Regional Tripartite Wages and
Productivity Board in Region IV-A (RTWPB) has earned ire rather than
relief among crisis-stricken workers. In fact, RTWPB's "reclassification"
of municipalities and cities has spurred wage reduction in many areas.
Lower than basic pay
For instance, in
General Mariano Alvarez town in
Cavite, workers now receive less
than P40 in their basic pay. Workers in the towns of Carmona, Rosario,
General Trias, Dasmarinas and Cavite
City which were classified in past
wage orders as Extended Metropolitan Area will only get an additional P12
instead of P18 due to reclassification of these as Growth Corridor Area.
Only Imus and Bacoor
towns, along with San Pedro and Biñan in Laguna remain classified as
Extended Metropolitan Area that will avail of the P255 new minimum wage.
In a statement, the
Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW) assailed the latest wage order as
"highly suspicious, anomalous and deceptive."
Marlene Gonzales said: "While Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's cabinet members
and hatchet men in government-owned corporations are excessively living in
abundance from the people's money and are even protected for their
corruption, workers’ welfare are left behind to bear the brunt of her
economic and political mismanagement. Sooner, the lowly-paid workers will
cry out loud in unison: Madam, no more noodles on our table!"
Seeing the inutility
of the RTWPB, NCPWR-ST's Fortuna stressed that what the country urgently
needs is a legislated wage increase of P125 across the country.
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