Monday, May 25, 2020

Open classes when truly safe, other modalities must be made universally accessible

Stocks Sink as Markets Open in China - The New York Times
Photo from NY Times

With the country’s PCR-based mass testing capacity not even available to all our workers, opening our schools this coming August is not only unsafe for our children but will also be very costly when alternative learning modalities are applied. The case of infected South Korean students and our own poor pandemic response raise many red flags on this issue.  

First, on mass testing. Without the vaccine and our mass testing capacity stuck at minimal level, sending their children to school is a choice which is exceedingly difficult to decide for poor families who cannot even get free mass testing and adequate subsidies to secure their own health and economic survival at home. On the other hand, not enrolling when schools officially open in August places unnecessary pressure on both parents and students whose dreams of getting out of the poverty trap the soonest time possible through education remain high despite the pandemic.

Second, on transportation. The government did not even make provisions of shuttle services for their employees mandatory to all employers. Students from poor families rely on public transport and we see them battered daily by the violence of our mass transportation system. Adjusting to the new and reduced capacity of our mass transport system will further expose children and their mothers to more hazards. On the other hand, requiring them to be shuttled by service vehicles which rates are more expensive is too much of a burden for parents whose economic future are threatened by manifold crises due to this pandemic.

Third, on the physical setup. Our overcrowded schools need to be re-modelled first to ensure physical distancing and we have not yet seen any plan on how to do this in the remaining few weeks. Will it mean dividing the number of sections and classes and therefore extending the working hours of our teachers?

Fourth, on alternative learning modalities. E-learning or distance learning is a sound idea as long as the infrastructure for it is ready and universally accessible to all students of all classes, public and private. In fact, the time for distance learning has come several years earlier than the pandemic but it did only serve a privileged class of students enrolled in high end universities.  Private schools may continue to offer this mode for capable students but for public schools, a universal online modality remains a wishful thinking at this point in time. To our knowledge, even our premier state university, the University of the Philippines, did not make online classes mandatory during the lockdown period because not all UP students and teachers have gadgets and access to reliable internet.

This online class divide can only be resolved if the state will provide free internet services to all barangays and online gadgets are made affordable to all households. Unfortunately, our national broadband capacity embedded in the power transmission lines is now under the control of the Chinese-run National Grid Corporation of the Philippines. To maximize its free use for educational purposes, the transmission system has to be re-nationalized, notwithstanding many other issues supporting the argument for its renationalization.

Education as a social good must be made universally accessible to all, including the new and advance systems of learning modalities. Otherwise, without system and infrastructure reforms, Philippine education in times of pandemics will stay as a model itself of social inequality that infected this nation for over a century now.

25 May 2020

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Workers losing ground from DOLE's wrong policy direction

Recent labor advisories, particularly Department Order (DO) No. 213 and Labor Advisory (LA) No. 17 and 18 issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under Sec. Silvestre Bello are loosening up some well placed labor standards that protect workers from being exploited under normal conditions as well as during crisis situations.

Labor Advisory No. 17 is an example of how an emergency instrument can legitimize wage reduction at a time regular income and #AyudangSapatParaSaLahat are badly needed by no work-no pay workers.

The pre-Covid19 low wage regime that dominated industries for decades can only be negotiated up not down, but here is DOLE giving ECOP a wider latitude in making flexible work arrangements and diminution of wages and benefits a legitimate exercise of their prerogative. This policy will surely work in favor of the employers as workers are made to choose between jobs and fair income which, in the ideal world of Harry Roque, does not exist during this time.

LA 17 is no different from LA 18 which requires employers to cover the cost of PPE's and testing but did not make mass testing mandatory.

The same goes with the DOLE-DTI guidelines which required employers to provide shuttle services or near-site accommodation to their employees but without mandating their compliance.

Kaya nauwi lahat sa 'bahala na si batman.'

Employers of course can only be happy with any policy that is not mandatory yet allows flexibility on their side to shortchange workers without facing any penalty.

We maintain that in times of crisis, the role of the state is to defend the better standards from eroding and to further seek its better ideals in the practical world where the power of capital rules.

This loss of direction on the part of DOLE we believe is not due to developmental topographical disorientation (DTD) syndrome as getting out of line most of the time is a regular thing in the department.

19 May 2020

Saturday, May 16, 2020

DOLE, PEZA asked to strictly enforce covid protocols with reopening of ecozones

Operating Economic Zones | Cavite

The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) called on the Department and Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) to strictly enforce covid-19 health and safe protocols for workplaces as tens of thousands of workers are going back to work with the reopening of industrial zones in the Calabarzon.

“We demand balik trabahong ligtas. We know that ecozone workers are eager to go back to work since they have suffered from the no work, no pay policies of employers and the insufficient aid provided by the state. But workers should not be risking their lives just to avert death from hunger,” asserted Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.

He added that “In the new normal, the ecozones are again acting like independent republics with their own laws. The occupational risks for workers will be heightened by the silence of the DOLE-DTI guidelines on enforcement and monitoring of the protocols that it specified. The guidelines have no teeth!”

PM joined the labor coalition Nagkaisa in expressing concern that a second wave of covid infection may occur without mandating companies to institute robust health and safety measures for the workers the moment they leave their homes to report for duty.

Echoing Nagkaisa’s position, Magtubo said that “While the DOLE and the DTI issued joint guidelines on preventing covid-19 infection among the workforce, the guidelines fall short of ensuring a safe environment for workers. It doesn’t even prescribe penalties for any violations.”

“Instead of guidelines, a Department Order should have been issued to compel employers to negotiate with their workers a comprehensive set of protocols to prevent covid and deal with it effectively should it occur,” Magtubo explained.

Nagkaisa identified other major lapses of the joint DTI and DOLE Guidelines as:
> Failure to identify Sars-Cov-2 as an occupational hazard and Covid-19 as an occupational disease.
> No mandatory inspection of companies to ensure their compliance, especially in terms of providing physical distancing.
> No provision for paid 14-day quarantine leaves for workers who may end up being suspected of having Covid-19.

“For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of ecozone workers in the whole Calabarzon region, we ask that the DOLE-DTI Guidelines be revised to make it more effective and with penalties for violations,” Magtubo insisted.

May 16, 2020

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Subsidy to airlines must have pro-labor conditionalities

Philippine Airlines to pay $117m fees after Duterte threats ...
Photo from Asian Nikkei

The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) asserted that any subsidy for the airline industry must be tied to conditionalities. “Public aid to private corporations, especially big business like airlines, should enhance social justice and workers’ rights. We demand that taxpayer bailout of the three local airlines must be conditional,” declared Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.

He added that “Specifically, these conditions should include no layoffs, reinstatement of those already retrenched this year and institution of worker representation in the corporate boards of the airline companies. The airlines’ demand for P8.6 billion per month would easily surpass in two months the P3 billion spent for DOLE’s CAMP and P10 billion for SBWS that benefited workers. Withholding taxes levied on workers constitute the biggest portion of the tax revenues and thus labor is a stakeholder in any disbursement of people’s money.”

Last February 28, Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced a mass layoff of 300 regular employees allegedly due to the impact of covid. Then in March 19, Cebu Pacific let go of 150 cabin crew on probationary status because of covid travel bans. Finally on April 3, the 1Aviation Groundhandling Services Corp. retrenched 400 workers who were due to be regularized. The company services Cebu Pacific and is a joint venture of the Gokongwei-owned Cebu Air Inc. and another ground handling corporation.

“These 850 fellow airline workers deserve to have their jobs back as part of the recovery of the airline industry. No one must be left behind as the airline industry gets back on its feet with the help of taxpayer’s money,” insisted Eugene Soriano, former treasurer of the union PAL Employees Association (PALEA).

He demanded that PAL, before it receives any government subsidy, must implement the 2013 settlement agreement forged between the airline and PALEA to reinstate 600 employees retrenched in 2011 due to a controversial outsourcing program.

Magtubo argued that if the airlines would reject conditionalities on state aid for the airlines, the industry might as well be nationalized. “If the three airlines can only survive on taxpayer support, then nationalization is another option. Three private airlines competing for reduced passenger demand is an inefficient utilization of capital,” he averred.

PM’s demand for pro-labor conditionalities on government support is part of its call for “workers first in the new normal.” Part of its workers first platform are calls for ayudang sapat para sa lahat, balik trabahong ligtas, ayuda lagpas sa ECQ and makataong tugon hindi militarisasyon.

12 May 2020

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Loopholes in DOLE-DTI guidelines will imperil workers

Coronavirus: Philippines' Luzon lockdown hits domestic helper ...
Photo from SCMP

The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) stated that loopholes in the DOLE-DTI workplace guidelines on covid will put masses of workers in danger when they return to work. “Weak enforcement instruments and the lack of penal provisions in the guidelines will incentivize non-compliance by employers and thus imperil the health and safety of millions of workers and of the population as a whole,” asserted Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.

He explained that “The government has imposed an iron fist policy on ordinary people violating quarantine rules on the streets but in contrast is using kid gloves on capitalists. This is a stark double standard or social distancing in a bad sense. Compliance with occupational health and safety is an expense for employers and thus a deduction on their profit. Thus penalties on non-compliance will deter employers from their default behavior.”

Last Labor Day, one of the main demands in the online protest was for #BalikTrabahongLigtas. PM also announced its support for the proposed bill by Sen. Risa Hontiveros entitled the Balik Trabahong Ligtas bill which seeks to augment health care coverage for all workers regardless of employment status.

The group insisted that with more than 90% of establishments comprised of MSME’s which even before the covid pandemic are notorious for violating labor standards, strict monitoring and enforcement is needed to ensure occupational safety and public health when millions of workers return to work.

“Employers cannot be relied upon to voluntarily comply with labor and safety standards while the DOLE is sorely lacking in its record of enforcement. We propose that a mechanism be setup comprised of representative of DOLE, DTI, employers and workers to monitor compliance and enforcement, and to propose amendments to the guidelines,” Magtubo elaborated.

Further the group proposed the following changes to the guidelines:

1.      Coverage by Philhealth of the full cost of hospitalization of workers infected with covid.
2.      Provision by employer of wage subsidy for workers who are put on 14-day quarantine.
3.      Payment of hazard pay for workers in workplaces with imminent danger.
4.      Right to refuse by workers if working conditions are unsafe.
5.      Consultation with unions in enterprises that are organized.

3 May 2020

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Workers First in the New Normal

N95 Face Masks Are Giving Nurses Bruises On Face

The covid pandemic has exposed all the ills and contradictions of capitalism. The state has intervened massively in society to contain the infection and maintain the social fabric. Still the workers and the poor are disproportionately bearing the burden of the pandemic.

The lockdown has put millions temporarily jobless on a no work, no pay policy. The poor cannot earn a living as everyone is forced to stay at home. Assistance to the poor was not enough for everyone so political patronage and wanton discrimination reigned supreme. The health system is overwhelmed by the scale of the contagion since public health provision has suffered from budget cuts while private hospitals are out of reach of the masses.

Women are key frontliners as they comprise the overwhelming number in the care economy in general and the health sector in particular. And among working class families, women face an even heavier task just because of their gender. Even during the lockdown, the toil of domestic chores falls on the shoulders of women while a big part of the responsibility of provisioning for the family’s daily bread is also theirs. Violence against women and abuse of girls and children will increase with male breadwinners temporarily out of work and the family stressed to the limit due to financial hardship. Women will be forced into prostitution in the extreme of cases just to stave off hunger.

Finally, the government has exploited the pandemic to further restrict civil liberties and suppress democratic rights. An iron fist policy has dominated over a public health response. Thus the number of people arrested for violating the lockdown has far exceeded the number of people tested for covid. The situation in the Philippines is no different from other countries where authoritarianism is gaining ground.

A global recession, if not a depression, is looming. As in all episodes of capitalist crisis, the working class will be hard hit as the capitalist class will pass on the sacrifices to the poor.

The plight of the working class is deteriorating as capitalism struggles to recover from the covid pandemic and the economic crisis. But the present conjuncture is also an opening to reimagine a radical restructuring of society where the needs of people not profit come first.

Workers hold no nostalgia for the old normal of neoliberal capitalism characterized by insecure work, cheap wages, permanent joblessness, privatized services and lack of protection. Instead the working class must spearhead the framing of the new normal as a system where workers are valued for their wealth-creating labor and the people enjoy by right the things necessary for a decent life—full employment, a living wage, universal health care, quality education, social protection and a clean environment, a voice in their workplaces and society as a whole, among others.

A proper response to the covid pandemic should put the needs of the workers and poor first. The following four demands are just the most immediate but are necessary to transition to a new normal of workers first.

1.      Sufficient Aid for All

An income and employment guarantee for all. All jobless workers, formal and informal, should receive a wage subsidy at the prevailing minimum wage or P10,000, whichever is higher.

Aid delivery must be universal not targeted and discriminatory. This will solve the slow, confusing and bureaucratic targeted system of delivering government assistance to formal and informal workers. Support must be raised from the present level of P5,000.

2.      Aid beyond the period of the lockdown

Aid should not stop when the lockdown is lifted, especially since not everyone will be able to return to work immediately. Assistance should be extended to at least six months. This extended support must form part of the proposed stimulus package for the purpose of recovery from the crisis.
The stimulus must also provide a robust emergency employment program for workers who will become permanently unemployed due to the impact of covid and for returning migrant workers who will be displaced in their host countries. Likewise, the stimulus aid for businesses must be tied to compliance to labor rights and standards, and to grant of a voice for workers in their workplaces.

3.      Safety for workers returning to work

Workers returning to their jobs are key to restarting the economy. But the government and capitalists are more concerned more with the return on investments and less on the safety of workers. Unfortunately, even workers are tempted to risk their health and safety rather than face hunger due to joblessness.

Health and safety in the workplace and in transit must be ensured before workers are asked back to work. Mass testing must be done through the reliable Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) not the erratic Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) preferred by the government and capitalists. Personal protective equipment or PPE must be given free to workers. They must be remunerated with additional hazard pay. Full healthcare coverage for workers who will be hospitalized due to covid. Workers must have the right to refuse to work without penalty if health and safety is not guaranteed.

4. Humane not militarized response

Enforcement of the lockdown has been characterized by violence by state authorities, arrests of the poor and suppression of protests by the hungry. Duterte has repeatedly threatened to impose martial law even if the situation falls outside of the purview of the law.

The issue is framed as lack of individual discipline when in fact insufficient aid and repressive rules force the masses to desperately break the law. The order for people to stay at home will be problematic since people are going hungry for lack of assistance and they are treated as beneficiaries of philanthropy instead of claim holders of the right to aid in a time of crisis.

Partido Manggagawa
May 1, 2020

Friday, May 1, 2020

Workers slam “Balik Probinsya” scheme in online Labor Day protest

As locked down workers in the Philippines and the world celebrated May 1 in online actions, the labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) slammed Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello’s push for a “Balik Probinsya” scheme.

“The ‘balik probinsya’ plan of Sec. Bello and the ‘balik trabaho’ proposal of Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion are both hare-brained pro-capitalist schemes. Labor was not consulted in Bello’s rehash of Bong Go’s plan while Concepcion’s GoNegosyo proposal will endanger workers’ lives. Workers will be sent to the provinces where wages are dirt cheap and will be sent back to work since they are allegedly immune so capitalists can earn bigger profits immediately,” stated Rene Magtubo, PM national chair.

Both proposals are in direct contradiction to the demands being put forward by organized labor in today’s online protest. PM and the labor coalition Nagkaisa are asking workers to make selfies while holding placards with demands and to post it in social media accounts using the hashtags #AyudangSapatParaSalahat, #BalikTrabahongLigtas, #MakataongTugonHindiMilitarisasyon and #MayDay2020.

“A proper response to the covid pandemic should put the needs of the workers and poor first not the interests of capitalists in front and center,” Magtubo averred.

The group is also alarmed at the rise in the number of cases involving cruel treatment by security forces against violators of quarantine protocols and warns against a new normal of impunity. PM cited the police dispersal of a workers’ picketline in Cavite during Black Friday night. Dasmarinas police who refused to give their names threatened two strikers—at the Sejung Apparel Inc. factory in the First Cavite Industrial Estate—with arrest for allegedly violating the quarantine rules.

“Labor rights are not suspended during the ECQ and this incident breaks all the rules of engagement, especially the guidelines on the conduct of security personnel during labor disputes,” Magtubo insisted.

He added that “Workers hold no nostalgia for the old normal of neoliberal capitalism characterized by insecure work, cheap wages, permanent joblessness, privatized services and lack of protection. But we will fight any plot by capitalists and the government to shape a new normal where workers are in worse conditions than before.”

“Instead the working class imagine the new normal as a system where workers are valued for their wealth-creating labor and the people enjoy by right the things necessary for a decent life—full employment, a living wage, universal health care, quality education, social protection and a clean environment, a voice in their workplaces and society as a whole, among others,” Magtubo concluded. 

May 1, 2020