Friday, April 15, 2011

Fight for jobs and CBA, Defy the DOLE order vs strike

In 1998, Philippine Airlines (PAL) reported heavy financial distress that it went through a Rehabilitation Program for a period of ten (10) years. Included in the program was the suspension of the PAL-PALEA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Members of Philippine Airlines Employees’  Association (PALEA) opposed the proposed suspension. It was interposed that the said program is in contravention of public policy and violates the right of the workers to Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

Amidst the opposition posed by the workers and despite the mediation of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) headed by then Sec. Bienvenido Laguesma, PAL stopped operations of the company on the midnight of 23 September 1998. A few days later, PAL, with the assistance of the DOLE, conducted a referendum among the members of the Union. The central issue was the proposed suspension of the CBA. Caught between losing their livelihood and surrendering their hard earned right, the members of PALEA reluctantly acceded to the suspension as a pre-condition to the re-opening of PAL. Consequently, PAL re-opened its operations on 07 October 1998. Some PALEA members questioned the legality of the suspension in the Supreme Court (Rivera vs. Espiritu, G.R. No. 1355447 January 23, 2002). 

During the rehabilitation period, PAL registered a complete turn-around of its financial situation. Its maturing obligation amounting to US$2.0 Billion incurred for its aggressive and most ambitious re-fleeting program was fully paid. Such that, on 28 September 2007, one year ahead of its schedule, PAL came out of the rehabilitation program. However, the suspension of the PAL-PALEA CBA continued. Surprisingly, a year later, the then PALEA leadership purportedly agreed to a one-year extension of the CBA moratorium on the ground of financial losses incurred by the company. This fact, however, remains undocumented. 

Based on the above premises, it can be gleaned that on August 26, 2009, when PAL management laid down its plan to outsource, the PAL-PALEA Collective Bargaining Negotiations shall already have commenced after more than ten (10) years of CBA suspension. It is very clear that the Company’s outsourcing program which eventually results to mass termination of 2,604 regular PAL employees and Union members is intended to evade PAL’s responsibility to negotiate a new CBA with PALEA. 

Verily, the PAL-PALEA CBA is a central issue to the PAL-PALEA labor dispute. PAL’s reported total comprehensive income in the amount of US$75.0 Million, which, according to PAL’s Financial Statements is a “significant improvement of US$116.5 Million from the same period total comprehensive loss of US$41.5 Million in 2009. PAL Holdings, Inc., majority stakeholder of PAL, in turn, reported profits in the amount of Php3 Billion for the nine-month period ended December 31, 2010. 

Despite the excellent financial condition of the company, PAL refuses to share the benefits of the company’s operations to its workers, through the CBA. After making its workers sacrifice their collective bargaining rights for more than a decade which resulted to the company’s huge labor cost savings, PAL now rewards them with termination and refusal to bargain. If PAL succeeds in its sinister design, a de facto indefinite CBA moratorium would take place. This is how PAL celebrates its 70 years of operation – termination of its loyal and dedicated workers and eventual contractual employment. 

Unfortunately, the government, through the Department of Labor and Employment and the Office of the President, miserably took a blind eye on the above-mentioned circumstances. By deciding that the termination of the 2,604 regular employees is a valid exercise of management prerogative, these very same offices, which are mandated to protect the workers, violated the sacred rights of the workers to Security of Tenure, Rights to Collective Bargaining, Rights to Concerted Actions including the Right to Strike in accordance with law and the Rights of the Workers to Self-organization. All of which are embodied in the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. By their decisions, the workers’ constitutional rights are now subordinated to management prerogative which is only a principle in law.  

Meanwhile, last 12 April 2011, PALEA submitted its Motion for Reconsideration to the decision of the Office of the President dated March 25, 2011 affirming the mass termination.  

The workers are pushed to the wall. They must have to test the law and prove to themselves that there is still a law that protects their rights. Thus, PALEA’s resort to a strike, even in defiance of the DOLE Secretary’s Order certifying the PAL-PALEA CBA issue to the National Labor Relations Commission for compulsory arbitration, can be regarded as the workers’  stance to test the law -a fight for their survival. PAL’s outsourcing plan will result in the death of the Union and the end of Collective Bargaining. 

Faced with such adversities, PALEA is raising the level of the struggle to the international arena. As an affiliate of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), PALEA has sought the assistance and intervention of its ITF affiliates, both local and overseas. With the government evidently violating the Philippines’ international obligations under the core conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), specifically the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (1948, No. 87), and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (1949, No. 98), a case will be filed against the government with Philippine Airlines as co-respondent. 

PAL’s mass termination is not a simple case of retrenchment. PAL intends to outsource virtually its entire workforce. It will be the biggest outsourcing of core functions which will be a precedent that gives the green light to all other employers to follow. 

Hence, the case of PALEA has become a unifying factor to the country’s labor movement. Because of the adverse implications of PAL’s case to the workers, in general, and to trade unionism, in particular, the labor movement has thrown its full support behind PALEA. The Union has successfully mobilized various labor organizations in support of its cause under the call, “ Ang Laban ng PALEA ay Laban ng Lahat. Ang Laban ng Lahat ay Laban ng PALEA (The Fight of PALEA is the Fight of All. The Fight of All is the Fight of PALEA). Interestingly, even the clergy, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) through its National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), has already thrown its support to PALEA invoking the principle of “the primacy of labor over capital”. 

The struggle of the PALEA members transcends the PAL issues. PALEA is now the trailblazer in the fight for Security of Tenure, Regular Jobs, Union Security and the Right to Collective Bargaining.

PALEA Executive Board

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