By Ruben D. Torres, 29 Oct 2021, Manila Times
THE May 2022 national elections is an opportune time for workers to present a labor agenda that candidates may consider in order to advance the interests of labor in the country.
It should be recalled that in the last national elections, one of the demands of organized workers was the abolition of the short-term employment scheme, or short-term contractual employment.
All the presidential aspirants and most of the senatorial and congressional candidates promised the workers that they would pass legislation that would curb the “555” employment scheme, which makes naught of the security of tenure of both public and private sector workers.
After the elections, attempts were made to pass legislation to curb the practice of short-term employment. The bill passed by both houses of Congress was vetoed by the President under intense lobbying of the employers.
For next year’s national elections, the National Trade Union Center of the Philippines (NTUC) approved a Labor Agenda which it intends to present to the presidential, senatorial and congressional candidates.
The NTUC agenda notes that “the key to human-centered recovery and development is a reinvigorated economy amidst a safe environment. A sustainable economy ensures living wages to increase demand for goods and services and drive increased employment, earnings and production, and government revenues through taxes.” It laments that decades of trickle-down economic policy did not work.
The NTUC further observes that in the last 20 months since Covid-19 ravaged the economy, unemployment and underemployment have worsened even as inflation has surged. All to the detriment of workers and farmers.
Foremost in the list of demands of the NTUC are effective and sustained Covid responses, i.e., “social assistance for millions of workers who have not regained full hours of work and full wages” in view of health protocols enforced. It proposes that a “multi-month ‘ayuda’ and government subsidized wages are needed” to alleviate the ill effects of the pandemic on workers’ jobs and wages.
Along the same line of argument, the National Trade Union Center is advocating for the adoption of an “unemployment insurance scheme that shall cover temporary and long-term loss of jobs.” Unemployment insurance will lessen the national government’s burden of giving the workers financial assistance in times of calamities that disrupt workers’ employment and consequently deprive them of their wages, albeit on a temporary basis.
Notable in this Labor Agenda is the center’s call for a “just transition to a green economy which sustains decent jobs” while protecting the environment. It calls for creative tripartite discussions that shall address as a priority the workers’ concerns regarding the transition to a green economy.
Workers’ health is included in the NTUC Agenda as one of its priorities to get the economy to a full restart and therefore provide jobs and income to the workers of the country. It calls for the immediate and robust implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, to include hospitalization costs brought about by Covid-19 and other diseases. Vaccination of all workers is considered by the NTUC as a priority measure to ensure a safe return to work.
Included in the agenda is the advocacy for food security, regulated imports of agricultural products, support for domestic food production and a more serious “Buy Filipino” campaign. The principal advocates are the Federation of Free Farmers led by a former agriculture secretary, Leonardo Montemayor, the National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines (Nacusip), the Congress of Independent Organizations, (CIO), the Philippine Agricultural, Commercial, and the Industrial Workers Union (Pasiwu), headed by Roland de la Cruz. These federations are the biggest organizations of farmers and farm workers in the country.
The NTUC calls for the repeal of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is being used by police and military personnel, with the help of employers, to harass workers by tagging even democratic unions as communist front organizations.
Noting that women workers in the country still suffer from inequality and discrimination, the agenda urges the government to advance the interests of women workers through a resolute campaign against work discrimination and sexual abuse. It calls for the ratification of ILO Convention 190 against violence and harassment in the world of work.
Minimum wage fixing by the regional wage boards is the current legal way of determining the floor wage of workers in all sectors of the economy and regions of the country. The NTUC asserts that this mechanism has not really improved the wages of workers but has caused wage disparities across regions. Accordingly, it urges for a review of the minimum wage fixing mechanism, as it has not really accomplished the objective of improving the lives of the minimum wage earners. One reason is that the National Wages and Productivity Commission and the regional wage boards, while tripartite in composition, are dominated by the government and the employers. For which reason the floor wages of workers have always been in a catch-up mode to inflation that have kept the life of workers at bare subsistence levels. Accordingly, the NTUC calls for a living wage rather than minimum wages which perpetually consign the majority of the workers to penury.
Based on the acceptance of the Labor Agenda, the NTUC and its affiliates will determine whom to support and vote for in next year’s elections. Acceptance by candidates of the agenda is considered critical in the labor sector’s choice of candidates.
For after all, labor matters.