Sunday, December 29, 2019

Labor Yearender: The end endo promise died in 2019

Photo by Rappler

The mass of Filipino workers will look back and remember 2019 as the year that President Duterte’s famous promise to end endo dies ignominiously. With the stroke of his presidential veto of the Security of Tenure bill, Duterte shamelessly killed his pledge to abolish contractualization. End endo became another victim of EJK under the administration.

The dispute around the Security of Tenure bill pales in comparison to other labor related issues in 2019 like the expanded maternity bill (EML) or the influx of Chinese workers. While there were debates between workers’ and employers’ group about EML benefits, such reforms were low hanging fruits in contrast to the long-running struggle around contractualization.

Since the time that Duterte vowed to end endo during the campaign period up to the eve of the presidential veto, millions of workers held on to belief that those words would become deeds. For four long years, the labor movement engaged with the government for the implementation of the promise. Through the twists and turns of the campaign against contractualization, labor groups kept up the pressure.

It took more than a year into the administration’s term for DO 174 to be released by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Since DO 174 merely recycled the provisions of Aquino’s DO 18-A, the labor coalition Nagkaisa instead directly petitioned Duterte for a new rule that will make regular jobs the norm in employment relations. Thus came EO 51 in May 2018 which again fell short of workers’ demands. Upon the labor movement’s sustained demand, Duterte called on Congress in his 2018 SONA to pass the Security of Tenure bill on the argument that only a revision of the law could implement his promise. Then an open letter by all the employers associations appealed to Duterte to veto the bill. On the eve of the Security of Tenure bill lapsing into law last July, Duterte heeded the employers’ call and betrayed his promise to workers.

Pundits may say that it was too much for the labor movement to actually expect that such a radical populist promise will actually be fulfilled. As the saying goes, nangako na nga, gusto nyo pa tuparin. But for Partido Manggagawa, Duterte’s fake promise—which unfortunately the masses of workers believed in—can only be exposed not through denunciations but through experience. Thus the whole campaign to demand the realization of Duterte’s end endo promise ended in the veto but it also led to a significant drop in his popularity. In a Pulse Asia survey, Duterte’s performance ratings dropped by seven points from June to September 2019.

Despite the veto, the labor movement should be relentless in the end endo campaign in the coming year. But the anchor of the continued campaign will not anymore be the broken promise of Duterte but the real movement of contractual workers demanding regularization. In the last few years, labor unrest has been on the rise with the number of strike notices and actual strikes increasing. A majority of these labor disputes are due to regularization. Besides high profile cases like the NutriAsia, PLDT and Philippine Airlines, there are lesser known struggles by workers of the Sejung garments factory in Cavite and ES Transport firm in Cubao whose issues include regularization. Workers in Sejung spent their holidays on the picketlines while the workers in ES Transport had to end their strike due a mysterious assumption of jurisdiction order served on December 22 despite being a Sunday.

Encouraged by the presidential promise of end endo and the labor movement’s visible campaign, workers in these firms have not waited for the reforms from above but instead are claiming their rights by action from below. It is upon these grassroots initiatives and struggles, that the labor movement should base its campaign to abolish contractualization in 2020 and beyond.

Aside from the fight against contractualization, the labor movement should also open a new front in 2020—the struggle to end regional wages. Duterte again made a promise—not as prominent as end endo—but a pledge nonetheless to stop ‘provincial rates.’

In July this year, DOLE announced that it will undertake a study on the propriety of the regional wage system given the demand for wage increases and the clamor against provincial rates. Partido Manggagawa has consistently asserted that regional rates are a system to cheapen wages and boost profits. Thus wages in the NCR are double the rates in ARMM despite the fact that the price differential is nowhere as large. In Calabarzon, there are different wage rates even among contiguous cities and municipalities even though the cost of living is basically the same throughout the region.

Unfortunately, DOLE’s study of regional wages has been outsourced to UP’s School of Economics (UPSE) which is a known bastion of the neoliberal doctrine of the so-called free market. It is entirely possible that the DOLE-UPSE study will end up recommending not just the abolition of regional wages but also minimum wages itself. If so, this will mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Minimum wages have served as protection for workers since its enactment in 1936. President Quezon’s social justice program was an evident response to the labor and agrarian unrest of the period. At present, the minimum wage is not just the floor but it is also the average wage rate in country. Due to union decline and low collective bargaining coverage, wages above the minimum are an exception rather than the rule.

A Department of Finance study has revealed that from 2001 to 2016, labor productivity has doubled but real wages have remained stagnant despite repeated nominal wage orders by regional boards. In other words, the pie has become bigger but capitalists have monopolized the fruits of workers’ labor.

It is high time that the system of wage fixing be fixed. Thus PM’s call to abolish the regional wage boards and setup a National Wage Commission with the mandate to set a national minimum wage at the level of the cost of living. This will be in consonance with the Constitutional provision for a living wage. Next year, the fight for a living wage should begin in earnest.

December 29, 2019

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