Reality bites in the labor movement

Published by rudy Date posted on May 2, 2011

For many of our countrymen, a job that will feed them and their families and provide for a decent roof above their heads is the first step to fighting poverty. And for those who already have jobs, seeking higher wages is the next step to improving their standard of living.

During the last decades, however, our workers have learned that the route to receiving higher take-home pays – even if just to keep up with inflation – is not something that they can get from government, especially with changes in labor laws that ultimately favored business.

The decentralization to regional levels of wage boards, for example, that would hear and grant wage increases had weakened the strong militant labor union movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Labor also lost its fight against “contractualization,” which grants legitimacy to the concept of contract day-to-day work. This ultimately threatened job security of workers and even led to decimating the ranks of organized labor.

The rise of industrial estates that have the support of local governments promising the absence of labor problems has bred a docile breed of workers. During the recent financial global crisis, factory workers accepted without fuss management’s decision to layoff or reduce work days.

New working environment

This is not saying, though, that our workers are being coerced to accept these conditions. In the electronics industry, for example, workers realize that their livelihoods are intimately linked with the health of countries that require the production lines to keep moving.

Recently, with Japan’s tsunami and earthquake problems, orders for electronic components for automobiles and electronic gadgets had temporarily slowed down. Our affected workers have accepted their resulting fate without rancor.

Perhaps the biggest factor that has changed workers’ views, especially in the electronics industry, is the more transparent relationship they enjoy with the management of the companies they work in. The rules are clearly defined, and are followed in accordance to what the law dictates.

Irrelevant and inconsistent

The face of our domestic labor force and its operating conditions have changed so much that we are forced to question the relevance and effectiveness, even the appropriateness, of today’s labor laws. There are about 40 pieces of legislation that fall under this category.

Instead of openly discussing, for example, the concept of job security and its significance (or insignificance) in today’s world order, our lawmakers have chosen to look the other way. Instead, they have tacitly come up with supplemental laws that skirt around these controversial statutes in an attempt to attract companies to set up their businesses.

In many industrial estates, the right to organize and the right to strike are blatantly disregarded, which is directly in violation of basic tenets in our Constitution. Again, our lawmakers choose to ignore this basic discord in labor decrees.

Also, is there a need for a minimum wage law? Undeniably, experience tells us that any increase in the minimum wage causes an inflationary cycle in the economy that ultimately negates any initial benefits that workers get from the few pesos they get.

Insufficient and lacking

In other areas, the state’s executive and legislative houses have been remiss in protecting our migrant workers, not only when they get into trouble with their host countries’ laws, but also in receiving fair wages and being accorded humane working conditions.

As one of the countries that have a large migrant work force in the global arena, the Philippine government should take a more active role in defining international laws that govern the dignity of the transient work force and its rights.

We should also be more vigilant against illegal labor traffic that largely concerns our women and children. Most crimes that involve cross-border prostitution can be traced to weak immigration rules that allow rampant smuggling of people.

Overall labor program

Finally, there is need for a truly appropriate policy that will guide government in overseeing the affairs of our overseas Filipino workers in relation to national growth.

Our OFWs continue to account about a billion dollars a month in remittances. This precious money has not just kept the economy afloat, but also saved the country from strife caused by hunger and discontent.

These remittances represent an asset that should be channeled more effectively to spur economic growth in more sustainable terms, and not just as money that is spent on non-productive consumables. Are there programs in place to assist, encourage and motivate our OFWs to use their earnings for more productive endeavors?

In the same breath, there is a need to look at new industries or sectors that will provide employment to Filipinos who choose to stay in the country or who are repatriated back for any reason. Again, how is the current administration doing in its promise of creating more jobs for Filipino workers staying behind or are returning from abroad?

Bigger challenge for labor leaders

It is not sufficient for today’s labor leaders to merely agitate and demand for higher salaries. They have a bigger challenge. They have to join hands with the government and the private sector to sort out all these realities in our changing labor front in order to move forward and provide for a better future to the workers and the nation as a whole.–Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star)

Month – Workers’ month

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