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Campaign for Labor Protectionism

CAMPAIGN FOR LABOR PROTECTIONISM
for Social Progress and Social Justice in the 21st century

Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)
March 2014

The 1987 Philippine Constitution affirms the role of labor as the "primary social economic force" in its declaration of principles and state policies[1]. Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas defines this provision as the primacy of the human factor over non-human factors in production[2].

In its section for social justice and human rights, the highest law of the land declares that "the state shall afford full PROTECTION TO LABOR"[3]. Consistent with its recognition to labor's importance to society and the economy, it also orders the state to "promote full employment and the equality of equal employment opportunities for all".

By full "PROTECTION TO LABOR", the Charter guarantees the following rights of all workers: (a) self-organization, (b) collective bargaining and negotiations, (c) peaceful concerted activities including the right to strike[4]. Workers are also entitled to "security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage", along with their "just share in the fruits of production"[5].

Wholesale Infringement of Labor Rights and Standards

However, the condition of the Filipino working class, under successive post-EDSA 1986 governments, is not reflective of the letters and spirit of the 1987 Constitution. Not only are workers not fully protected by law against capitalist abuse.  More so, the state itself restricts the rights of labor through its own anti-worker, anti-poor policies and legislation.

·         Rather than "full employment", the unemployed and underemployed are wasted by joblessness while the few employed are compelled to go on overtime to augment their meager income;

·         Instead of "self-organization" and "collective bargaining", labor groups are threatened to extinction by contractualization and stringent mechanisms that hinders union recognition;

·         As to the right to "concerted activities including the right to strike", unions are ordered by the Labor Secretary to return to work even as they have only filed a strike notice and have not yet attempted any temporary or permanent work stoppage. The "assumption of jurisdiction" powers of the Secretary of Labor infringe the right to strike;

·         Sweatshop labor remains in the country in an era of unprecedented discoveries and technological advancements;

·         Workers receive not the living wage, but starvation wages. The country's wage fixing mechanisms favor "employers capacity to pay" rather than the workers' cost of living in determining the price of labor-power; and, 

·         Instead of enjoying their "just share" in the fruits of production, there is no substantial betterment to the lives of workers and their families as it is eclipsed by their immense contributions to social progress. Benefits and labor standards have remained stagnant throughout the years despite the great leaps to global production and economic growth in the last fifty years of the 20th century.

Neoliberalism and the Global Capitalist Offensive against Labor

The erosion of labor rights and standards in the Philippines is part of a global capitalist offensive that gained steam in the last decade of the new millennium.

It is an ongoing onslaught that has been described - even by conservatives in the labor movement* - as a "virtual holocaust" of unionism. Around the world, employers are taking away the hard-won victories of the international trade union movement. Capital wants to turn back time by two centuries, to a return to 19th century labor-capital relations, when labor rights and standards were not legally-enforced and where unions were forcibly outlawed.

In its crusade against unionism, capitalists raise the banner of "free trade" and the economic doctrine of neoliberalism. They say protectionism is obsolete in the era of globalization. What we need now, they argue, is the removal of all state interventions in the market through the policies of liberalization, deregulation, privatization and flexibilization of labor.

Successive post-Edsa 1986 administrations toed the neoliberal line, without an iota of doubt and reservation. In the 1990s, the Philippine government started selling state-owned public utilities (water, power plants) to foreign-backed local taipans. It also dismantled regulatory mechanisms for petroleum products and the entire oil industry.

At the labor front, omnibus amendments to the Labor Code in 1987 changed the rules for security of tenure and wage-fixing (among other provisions). Previously fixed labor standards are being removed in line with the dictum of "labor flexibility".

The infamous Herrera-Veloso Law (RA6715) overhauled the 1974 Labor Code (Presidential Decree 442). One of its amendments explicitly stated that regular employees cannot be terminated without just cause (Article 279). Its deafening silence on the removal of casual workers for unjust arbitrary reasons became a gaping legal loophole that legitimized the capitalist threat of unemployment to casual workers.

Amendments to wage-fixing was also enacted through the Wage Rationalization Act (RA6727) established regional minimum wages and tripartite wage boards. Its criteria for wage-fixing undermined the Constitutional guarantee to a living wage.

These laws (RA6715 and RA6727), alongside other Labor Code provisions on regular and casual employment (Article 280) and legitimate and illegitimate contracting (Article 106), laid the legal foundations for contractualization, a scourge that continues to wreck havoc on the Constitutional rights to job security through regular employment, to self-organization for collective bargaining, and to decent life through a living wage.

Through these anti-worker legislations – implemented through subsequent labor department orders, a cheap, docile – and mostly contractual labor force – was created in a span of two decades.

At the same period, however, both at the global and local levels, the bankruptcy of neoliberalism became too glaring to dismiss.

Once proclaimed in the 1990s as the new paradigm for economic development, it is now exposed for its subservience to corporate greed, to monopoly capital, to large banks and to transnational corporations. The damning evidence against it is none other than the 2008 global financial crisis brought by the liberalization of global finance and rivaled only by the 1929 Great Depression in scope and magnitude.

In the Philippines, privatization and deregulation brought spiraling power rates. Meralco's $0.24/kwh is the fifth highest in the world and the most costly in Asia. The promise of cheap but better services by the water concessionaires remains unfulfilled. Local oil prices, whose movements do not correspond with world prices, are generally-accepted as proof for monopoly pricing by the cartels. The reduction of tariffs to hasten the entry of foreign products in the country has resulted into the collapse of domestic manufacturing, particularly our garments and textile industry.

Focusing and Extending the Militant Workers' Struggle
on Matters of State Policy and in the Parliamentary Arena[6]

This holocaust against unionism is a product of both corporate choice and economic law. The imperative from the perspective of labor, is to preserve, as an initial step, its historic gains in more than a century of workers struggle, protect the workers basic rights and promote their general welfare, and adapt the struggle to the current complexities of labor-capital relations in this era of globalization and neoliberalism.

By its very nature, this self-defense struggle of labor against capital's predatory aggression, must focus on state policy and inevitably extend on the legislative arena. In the first place, how can workers defend themselves at the enterprise level when the overwhelming majority are not even unionized and are deprived of the right to collectively bargain. On the other hand, separate struggles of individual unions will only benefit their particular members. Besides, it can only do so much since many current labor problems are not independent corporate decisions but are dictated by general economic developments and state policies. The struggle, therefore, must take a political character. A struggle on matters of state policies must be fought in the parliamentary arena. And this struggle must take a generalized character - a unified struggle of the entire working people.

Secondly, landmark victories of the labor movement - the right to unionize, the right to strike, the 8-hour workday, labor standards and benefits - were all won not in separate battles at the enterprise level but class war in the political arena. They are concessions of the capitalist state and (these) legislative victories and advances in workers' rights and welfare are being undermined and attacked by the forces and power of capital. In due time, the economic laws and corporate choices will all find expression in state policies and legislations and complete the legalization of capital's offensive against labor.

The labor movement has no choice but to combine mass struggle with parliamentary struggle in the political arena just as it combines direct mass action with tactics in bargaining negotiations at the enterprise level. The militant section of the trade union movement must renounce its "heritage" of recoiling from the parliamentary arena, while simply engaging the capitalist state in propaganda battles and not doing its very best in fighting for tangible victories.

Campaign for "Labor Protectionism"

Protectionism is the anti-thesis of neoliberalism. It argues for state intervention in the market as it places primacy to the "right to live decently" over property rights. With regards to promoting workers' rights and welfare, we are calling for a policy shift towards "labor protectionism" in accordance to the Constitutional provision for providing "full protection to labor".

To materialize the policy of "labor protectionism", the following demands would be expanded into concrete, detailed and formal legislative proposals:

1. Enable the Constitutional guarantee for a living wage. Reform wage-fixing mechanisms by setting the daily cost of living as the sole criterion of the minimum wage or take-home pay. Enact a "living wage" law. Abolish the regional wage boards and create a Living Wage Commission to take the responsibility of mandating wage increases.

Exempt from income tax and paying their Social Security System (SSS) or GSIS, Pag-ibig and Medicare contributions all fixed-income earners with wages and salaries not exceeding the daily cost of living. Increase take-home pay through tax breaks.

2. Adopt a 36-hour workweek (six-hour working day, 6 days a week) to enable the Constitutional provision for "full employment". Increase the overtime premium to 60%. Set a maximum allowable daily overtime work of four (4) hours.

3. Combat the menace of contractualization and casualization with comprehensive pro-labor legislation. This epidemic spawned by globalization is proving to be Enemy No. 1 of the labor movement. Capitalists resort to varied forms of contractualization and casualization to bust or ban unions, cheapen labor and deny labor security. Increase the payment of contractual labor to 200% of the minimum wage.

4. Liberalize requirements and hasten process of union building. Remove the "no union" option in certification election because Constitutional rights could not be waived. Direct and mandatory recognition for unions in unorganized establishments (Article 257, Labor Code as amended by Republic Act 9481). Enact a comprehensive labor code for public sector unionism and laws and guidelines for the building of national unions specially in industries or sectors where local unions are impractical.

5. Criminalize labor law violations by capitalists, particularly on compensation, labor standards, ULP and union busting, in accordance with the last paragraph of Article 248. They should be penalized with imprisonment and fines. Establish special labor courts to handle these criminal cases in continuous trial.

6. Shorten the term of a collective bargaining agreement to three (3) years with yearly renegotiations on its economic provisions to ensure its timeliness.

7. Reform and reorganize the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) as graft-ridden government agencies manned by officials and bureaucrats beholden to capital. Fast track resolution of cases filed by labor through continuous hearings and restrict management's abuse of "due process". Decisions at the commission level should be immediately executory. Appeals to NLRC decisions should be brought directly to the Supreme Court.

8. Prioritize workers' claim over government and other creditors in the event of permanent shutdown of a company. Enact law obliging companies to establish trust funds for retirement, severance, gratuity and separation pay of workers. Make more effective laws prohibiting and penalizing run-away shop, illegal lockout, illegal closure, illegal shutdown, illegal dismissal and all matters related to unfair labor practice and union-busting.

9. Amend provisions of jurisdiction on strikes. The Labor Secretary can regulate but not deny through his "assumption" powers the constitutional right of workers to strike even in "vital industries". He should be allowed to assume jurisdiction only at a particular stage of a strike. Once the Secretary assumes jurisdiction, he should resolve all disputes and stop the practice of certifying to the NLRC a labor dispute assumed by the DOLE. Legalize the right of strikers to block ingress-egress of goods and personnel during a strike. Strengthen anti-scab provisions and restrict the hiring of striker replacement.

10. Deputize labor leaders and trade unionists as "labor inspectors" to monitor and report violations of labor laws and standards. Establish an Ombudsman for Labor to investigate and prosecute corrupt government officials and trade union leaders. Establish a Labor Investigation Bureau (National Bureau of Investigation-NBI type) to assist workers and unions in the investigation and prosecution of labor related violations.

The Path to Genuine Social Progress
is Social Justice for the Working Class

Our demand for meaningful reforms in labor relations is guided by the concept of "social justice". In accordance with the Charter’s provisions on social justice and human rights, these proposals seek to: a) protect and enhance the right of workers to human dignity, b) reduce social, political and economic inequalities and c) remove the cultural inequities, by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good[7].

To attain these objectives, the Constitution shall regulate property rights[8], contrary to the capitalist dictum in the era of neoliberalism and globalization that regards management and company prerogative as absolute.

This proposed labor legislative agenda is an answer to the undeniable gap between capital and labor, the rich and the poor, the propertied and the have-nots that exists in the country today despite the steady annual growth of the Philippine economy.

·         In 2011, the richest 40 families accounted for seventy six (76%) of the Philippine gross domestic product (GDP)[9].

·         The top three deciles – according to family income distribution – enjoy P2.43 Trillion or almost sixty four percent (63.8%) of the total family incomes in the country[10].
 
·         Henry Sy, who recently crashed in the Forbes list of 100 richest people in the world[11], attained his iconic status through cheap contractual labor.

The widening gap between the affluent and the impoverished exists not only in the country. It is a global trend, aggravated by the policies of neoliberalism and by undeniable advancements in the social production.

Global production in the last five decades of the previous century surpasses the accumulated labor of the past 10,000 years before World War 2. Yet, all around the world, wages paid to chief executive officers of transnational corporations are almost four hundred times more than their average worker[12]. The slogan of the renowned “Occupy Wall Street” movement best captures the present state of global inequality: “We are the 99%!”

For the working class, genuine social progress means social justice. It means more than economic growth and wealth creation, measured by the increase in GDP[13] and GNP[14]. It implies the redistribution of wealth to the toiling and impoverished majority.

Progress means the advancement in the living conditions of the people. For labor, this means not just improvements in their material well-being – through wages, benefits and ample opportunities for productive and gainful employment – but also in their development as human beings and as members of society, i.e., to participate in governance because the working class comprises the majority of the sovereign Filipino people.

The defense of labor rights and standards is but an initial step in redefining social relations in the twenty-first century. Its requirement is a unified labor movement that recognizes the shared predicament of all workers under neoliberalism and globalization, and seeks meaningful and lasting improvements for the next generation of the working class and the Filipino people.

To this end, the BMP – through its allies in Congress and in the parliament of the streets – would campaign for “labor protectionism”, commencing on Labor Day this year. We are inviting the leaders of the broad trade union movement – from moderate to militant – to discuss and draft a common legislative agenda to address the everyday problems of the working class.

Inasmuch as we challenge ourselves to the daunting task of revitalizing the militant labor movement through these demands, we likewise dare the Noynoy Aquino administration to address the worsening plight of Filipino labor by adopting the policy of “labor protectionism”, in line with his unceasing rhetoric of “kayo ang boss ko” and “tuwid na daan”. #



[1] 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article 2, Section 17
[2] Joaquin G. Bernas S.J., "The 1987 Philippine Constitution - A Reviewer - Primer
[3] 1987 Philippine Constitution, Article 13, Section 3
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid
[6] From “Campaign for a Labor Legislative Agenda”, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Kapatiran ng mga Pangulo ng Unyon sa Pilipinas (KPUP), National Confederation of Labor (NCL), April 1997, written by Filemon “Ka Popoy” Lagman 
[7] 1987 Constitution, Article 13, Section 1
[8] Ibid
[9] “Philippines’ elite shallows country’s new wealth”, March 3, 2013, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business
[10] 2009 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), National Statistics Office
[11] “Businessman Henry Sy crashes into Forbes’ 100 richest people in the world”, March 4, 2014, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business
[12] "CEO pay is 380 times average worker's - AFL-CIO”, CNN Money, April 19, 2012
[13] Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - The total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.
[14] Gross National Product (GNP) - Gross domestic product plus the net income from abroad. 

Das Kapital published on 14 Sept 1867

Das Kapital published on 14 Sept 1867

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