Without a doubt, covid-19 has gravely affected everyone, rich and poor, employer and worker. Still, workers and the poor are the ones who have been disproportionately impacted. The double-digit economic recessions in the second and third quarters of this year has been felt as grinding poverty and daily hunger by 7 million Filipino families as revealed in the SWS survey in September.
The Philippine economy is in worse shape compared to its neighbors is due to the harsh and long lockdown. It is the authoritarian response of the Duterte administration that is to blame for the economic recession and the adverse effect on the working class. The administration was late in forming a response and once it did, it treated the pandemic—similar to how it treated the drug addiction—as a peace and order concern instead of a public health matter. The severe lockdown shuttered the economy, and left workers and the poor without jobs and livelihood for months on end. The aid provided by the government reached only 3 million households out of 16 million Filipinos who were temporarily jobless during the lockdown. Today 4.5 million are unemployed and 2.2 million more are out of work but are not officially jobless only because they stopped looking for employment.
To make matters worse, employers used the pandemic as an opportunity to deny workers their benefits and their rights. Workers were put on floating status for more than the six months allowed by law. Establishments reopened but replaced regular workers with new hires on endo status. Some employers shutdown their firms without paying workers separation and other benefits. Capitalist Grinches are exploiting the pandemic to bust unions as shown by the experience of the Arcya Glass Employees Union in Laguna and the First Glory labor union in the Mactan ecozone.
While the pandemic of rights violations spread, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) exercised social distancing from workers. The DOLE released a series of orders and advisories that denigrated labor standards and rights. Labor Advisory 17 allowed employers to cut wages and benefits as long as workers will agree. But workers were left with no choice but to bite the bullet of wage cuts as the DOLE suspended the filing of complaints under DO 213. Labor groups called on the DOLE to dialogue but were repeatedly denied. Meanwhile the government banned protests and arrested those who tried using the pandemic as an alibi. In one incident, the picketline of Sejung Apparel workers in the First Cavite Industrial Estate was dispersed by police and guards in the middle of Black Friday night for allegedly violating quarantine rules. With workers strikes and street protests effectively banned, Congress railroaded the Anti-Terror Law.
But workers are fighting back and are in the frontlines of the struggle to reclaim their rights. The Arcya Glass workers spent their holidays in the picketlines to protest the continued operation of the factory despite allegedly being permanently closed. The First Glory labor union has voted to go on strike to demand the reinstatement of 300 fired workers. Labor groups in the Philippines together with international union federations have formed the Caucus of Global Unions Pilipinas to call for the repeal of the Anti-Terror Law on pain of the country losing its trade privileges with Europe. Workers in four big factories in the Mactan ecozone have organized into unions as a result of recent grievances over lack of aid during the pandemic and long-running issues over wages and benefits. Certifications elections are due to be held next year in the four firms. We predict that 2021 will see a resurgence of workers’ actions to defend democratic freedoms and labor rights.
December 29, 2020