Friday, June 30, 2017

Isang Bigong Taon: A failed one year for Digong – labor groups

Contractualization did not stop; wages remained low and regionalized; the unemployment and underemployment problems continue to weigh down on a large number of Filipino workers.  “In sum, it was “Isang B(D)igong Taon” on the labor front for President Duterte’s first year in office,” stated various labor groups in their one year assessment of the President’s performance.

It can be recalled that the President made a campaign pledge that contractualization will stop the moment he becomes the President.  He also vowed to raise wages and abolish the system of provincial rates.

“We tried to rate the President’s performance as objective as we can, but the outcomes for labor over his first 365 days have been generally wanting, have given us false expectations and given us many unfulfilled promises,” said the workers groups in a joint statement distributed to media during a demonstration held at the Boy Scout Circle in Timog Quezon City, Friday.

The mass action was organized by the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro), Partido Manggagawa (PM), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Federation of Labor Unions (Naflu) and the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (Palea).  Members of the World March of Women and Ateneo University’s Union of Students for the Advancement of Democracy (USAD) also joined the rally.

No end yet to endo

In a meeting on Labor Day, President Duterte asked labor groups to draft an Executive Order that would use prohibition of all forms of contractualization as a framework.  This was after the unanimous rejection of labor groups of Department Order 174 issued by Labor and Employment Sec. Silvestre Bello III sometime in March.  He also instructed the labor department to resolve with dispatch the years of dispute between PAL and PALEA on the issue of contractualization.

In response the labor groups submitted a unified draft together with the formal labor sector of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. But almost two months from its submission, the President has done no executive action to address the rampant contractualization.

“We have always advocated for a prohibition of all forms of contractualization and a stop to the abusive operations of manpower agencies and manpower cooperatives. The President himself at his assumption to power and in his first meeting with labor groups early this year openly expressed disgust over these as they ‘abused workers,’ using his words,” said the groups.

According to labor groups, DO 174 continues to permit contractualization and allows manpower agencies and manpower cooperatives to take a cut from workers’ salaries each payday.

There was also no certification issued by the President on pending anti-endo bills filed before the Congress. The PAL-PALEA dispute is not yet resolved.

The only token victory they got on this respect, the groups said, is the planned deputization of trade unionists as labor inspectors, the first batch of which are now undergoing training at the labor department.  

Freedom of Association is also one of the areas where the President has a failing mark from the groups as organizing remains extremely difficult particularly in Economic Zones as workers get harassed and get fired for trying to organize unions.

Wages, power, employment, OFW fees, new taxes

With the regional wage setting mechanism still in place, discrimination in terms of wages still persists across the country. The President said he was for a national minimum wage, but such policy pronouncement has not translated even to a working paper from DOLE that they can discuss with workers.

“In the meantime the real value of wages continues to drop, power rates and prices of basic goods and services continue to climb, making it more burdensome for the working class. Meanwhile, the collection of exorbitant placement and other fees for OFW have not been addressed sufficiently if at all,” added the group.

In addition, the planned imposition of excise taxes on oil and the expansion of VAT coverage on goods and services under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), the group feared, will lead to further erosion of workers purchasing power especially those earning the minimum wage and below.
ILO Convention 151 ratification, the saving grace

The President, however, got a passing mark for being the first chief executive to endorse for Senate concurrence International Labor Convention 151 on Labor Relations in the Public Sector. The treaty, once ratified by the Senate, would guarantee the right to organize of public sector workers and allow them to bargain for better working conditions, among others.

Wrong war

Asked why the President failed to satisfy workers’ clamor for change during the last 365 days, the labor groups said, “It is expected when a leader quickly descends into a wrong war that only resulted to thousands of unsolved killings.  While surveys have consistently showed that inflation, wages, and employment remain the top concerns of every Filipino.”

30 June 2013

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Labor coalition welcomes lower tax on personal income but rejects regressive impact of excise taxes

Workers have long been demanding for higher tax exemptions, hence, the approval by the House of Representatives of Package 1 of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) is a welcome relief.
Under the TRAIN, income lower than P250,000 per year will be tax free while higher income brackets, except for those who earn more than P5 million, will be charged a lowered tax rate of 25% from the current high of 32%.
This is surely a welcome development.  But for the labor coalition Nagkaisa, the workers’ gain in Personal Income Tax (PIT) will be offset in a regressive manner by the imposition of excise taxes on fuel products and the lifting of VAT exemptions in the sale of specific goods and services.
“Everyone knows, not just workers, that it will increase prices of goods and services that would affect mostly the poor and those at the lower income brackets,” said Nagkaisa spokesman Renato Magtubo. 
Magtubo said the TRAIN’s objective of shifting the tax burden from the poor to the rich, “Seems to be scheming if not tricky as forgone revenue on the side of the government, which is equivalent to individual savings derived from lower PIT of specific income group, shall be recovered in a universal manner through excise taxes and expanded VAT.”
The group explained further that the tax base can never be expanded through exemptions in PIT and corporate income, making indirect taxation through excise taxes and VAT expansion the main strategy in generating new and more revenue.  “Otherwise, nobody is going to pay for the lost revenue,” added Magtubo.
Under TRAIN’s package 1, a P3.00-P6.00 excise taxes will be imposed per liter on fuel and P10 for locally produced sugary products while several VAT-exempt products and services will be lifted, including cooperative income exceeding the P3 million thresholds.  Likewise, sale of real estate for socialized housing will now be covered by VAT.
According to the group, even the simulations made by staffs of the finance department showed the inevitable impact of increase in VAT payments by decile group – 43% for the richest 10% and 35% for the bottom 80%.  Increase for the second richest 10% is 22%. 
“An increase of 43 and 22 per cent respectively may mean nothing for the richest 20% who got significant savings from PIT exemptions.  But a 35% increase is surely a burden for the bottom 80% who includes the majority in the formal and informal sector, employed and unemployed, of the working class.  In the same manner everyone will be paying for the direct and indirect impact of excise taxes on fuel,” explained Magtubo. 
The labor leader added that those living in SPUG areas which rely on diesel as their single source of power will be absorbing a “minimal” impact, according to DOF.  But that would mean additional P84 for those who consume 100 kWh per month and P106 for those who consume 300 kWh. 
“These are the immediate impact that will hit everyone while the poor wait for the promised transfers contained in the proposed expenditure programs of the government,” said Magtubo.
The group said it will intervene in the continuing deliberation of the tax package in Congress especially on the proposed lowering of income taxes for corporations from 30% to 25%. 
“Our main question for this is why a tax rate on corporate income, which is supposed to be a tax on profit, is being lowered down to the same level of personal income which is a tax on labor?  A uniform rate on business and personal income can never be considered progressive taxation,” concludes Magtubo.”

On Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Package 1
13 June 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Workers calls for defense of political freedoms on Independence Day

As the nation celebrates Independence Day today, the labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) called on workers to defend political freedoms. “The workers and the people must be vigilant in protecting the liberties and freedoms we now enjoy amidst the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the extra-judicial killings due to the war on drugs,” declared Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.

The group also expressed solidarity with the rallies and events being held today to echo a similar call of defending civil liberties and political freedom. PM had earlier stated its opposition to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

“Even as workers are aware of the defects of the trapo democracy we have today, the rights and freedoms Filipinos possess at the moment is better than having none at all under a martial law or authoritarian regime,” Magtubo averred.

He explained that “Martial law in Mindanao is a disproportionate response to a localized issue. Further, it is a transgression of the Constitution as only rebellion and invasion, not terrorism, are the basis of imposing military rule. Clearly, after more than two weeks since its declaration, martial law has not helped in putting down the Maute group. What martial law has done is unnecessarily sacrifice workers’ and people’s rights in the guise of suppressing terrorism. Reports of the dispersal of a labor strike by soldiers in Compostela Valley is just the harbinger of such abuses under a martial law regime.”

“The accounts of abuses in Mindanao due to martial law is no different from the cases of extra-judicial killings or arbitrary arrests of labor unionists because of the war on drugs. In the bloody month of September 2016, seven labor leaders and farmer activists were killed vigilante-style, among them a PM organizer in Cebu City. That same month, a union president was arrested in Tarlac on trumped up charges of drug possession,” Magtubo said.

The group vowed to launch protests and actions to defend civil liberties and resist labor repression. “While employers’ groups were among those welcoming the declaration of martial law, workers will be at the forefront of resisting the repression of civil liberties,” Magtubo insisted.

12 June 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Groups call on government to heed demand for “just transition” after successful first day of jeepney strike

The first day of the two-day transport holiday was called a success by groups that launched the jeepney strike. They reiterated their demand on the government to stop the planned jeepney phase-out and instead implement a “just transition.”

Elmer Blancaflor, spokesperson for the Iloilo chapter of Partido Manggagawa (PM) and also president of the United Panay Truck Drivers Association, said that “Jeepney transport was paralyzed in the whole of Panay island. We estimate that 97% of jeepney drivers participated in the strike in Iloilo City, 95% in Roxas City, 95% in Aklan and 100% in Antique and Guimaras.”

PM together with the National Confederation of Transportworkers Union-Sentro are supporting the strike by the Iloilo City Loop Alliance of Jeepney Owners and Drivers Associations (ICLAJODA) and Confederation of Iloilo Province Jeepney Operators and Drivers Associations (CIPJODA).

“The unity of the jeepney drivers in Panay should be a wake up call on local governments and the Department of Transportation on the grave impact of their so-called modernization plan. The strike yesterday and today is just a preview of more militant protests if government remains deaf and blind to the demand for a just transition,” explained Blancaflor.

PM describes the just transition as consisting of four steps. First, a transition of five years before full implementation of the phase out. Second, assistance and subsidies to operators for the replacement of jeepneys. Third, a ban on the importation of old and surplus engines and second-hand vehicles. And last, conduct a study on the most appropriate alternative to jeepneys such as electric jeeps or hybrid, LPG or Euro4 engines.

“The livelihood of thousands of jeepney drivers should be benefited not endangered by the shift to environmentally-friendly public transportation. Social justice must accompany social progress,” Blancaflor emphasized.

PM criticized the draft Department of Transportation order mandating a minimum of PhP 7 million as capitalization for jeepney operators. “The capitalization requirement is discriminatory and anti-poor. It will lead to the gentrification of the jeepney sector and the dominance by big capitalists to the detriment of ordinary Filipinos who derive their livelihood as operators at present,” Blancaflor averred.

June 6, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

Labor group supports jeepney strike for “just transition”

The militant labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) expressed solidarity with the jeepney drivers who are on strike today and tomorrow in the islands of Panay and Negros in protest at the phase-out scheme of the government.

“Workers do not oppose modernization and the shift to environmentally-friendly public transportation but the transition must be just. Social justice must accompany social progress. The lives and livelihood of thousands of jeepney drivers cannot be sacrificed in the name of change,” declared Elmer Blancaflor, spokesperson for PM-Iloilo and also president of the United Panay Truck Drivers Association.

He added that “We understand and sympathize with the plight of our fellow workers. The temporary inconvenience of the transport holiday cannot compare with the permanent blow that the phase-out will inflict on jeepney drivers. We hope for the understanding of employees, students and commuters who are affected. The fight of jeepney drivers is our fight too.”

The group is supporting a just transition for the jeepney sector in the face of the government’s plan to immediately phase-out PUJ’s that are 15 years and older. PM, the labor center Sentro and its affiliate National Confederation of Transportworkers Union are supporting the strike being launched in Iloilo City and the whole of the Panay island by the groups Iloilo City Loop Alliance of Jeepney Owners and Drivers Associations (ICLAJODA) and Confederation of Iloilo Province Jeepney Operators and Drivers Associations (CIPJODA).

The groups are calling on the government to meet the demand for just transition. Specifically they are demanding a four-point agenda:
1.      Transition of five years before full implementation of the phase out;
2.      Assistance and subsidies to operators for the replacement of jeepneys;
3.      Ban on the importation of old and surplus engines and second-hand vehicles;
4.      Study on the most appropriate alternative to jeepneys such as electric jeeps or hybrid, LPG or Euro4 engines.

Blancaflor also slammed the draft Department of Transportation order requiring PhP 7 million as capitalization for jeepney operators. “The capitalization requirement is discriminatory and anti-poor. It will lead to the gentrification of the jeepney sector and the dominance by big capitalists to the detriment of ordinary Filipinos presently derive their livelihood as operators,” he explained.

PM said that the two-day strike is a just a preview of larger protests and a nationwide strike later if the jeepney drivers’ demands are not met.

June 5, 2017