Wednesday, April 30, 2008

RP labor movement weak, no longer militant

By Isagani de Castro, Jr.
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=116722

The Philippine labor movement has weakened considerably and its militancy has softened. This trend isn’t likely to change in the coming years unless there’s a major economic policy shift, labor analysts said.
"The labor movement, like it or not, its future is linked to a strong, solid agro-industrial base. If you do not address that, it will continue to be weak," Dr. Rene Ofrene
o, former dean of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations of UP and executive director of the Fair Trade Alliance, told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
"Decent wages require decent jobs. Decent jobs require decent industry. Decent industry will prosper only in a well-managed economy. So it’s intertwined," he said.
Membership in labor organizations, including unions, is one barometer of a strong labor movement. Unionized workers, especially those with collective bargaining agreements, often have better pay and working conditions than non-unionized labor.
On these scores, the Philippine situation is worrisome.
Official labor statistics and surveys show that despite increasing population (88 million) and labor force (36 million), membership in labor organizatio
ns has declined from over 3 million in the mid-1990s to 1.8 million in 2006.
(See table: http://www.bles.dole.gov.ph/2007%20Publications/2007YLS/STATISTICAL%20TABLES/Chap16/Tab16-2.xls)

The number of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the private sector has also fallen from a peak of 4,500 in 1992 to 1,742 in 2006. (See table: http://www.bles.dole.gov.ph/2007%20Publications/2007YLS/STATISTICAL%20TABLES/Chap17/Tab17-1.xls
STICAL%20TABLES/Chap17/Tab17-1.xls)

In addition, there are now less workers covered by CBAs. In recent years, only half a million workers, out of around 16 million wage and salary earners, were
covered by CBAs. In 2006, those covered by CBAs declined even further to 250,000 workers.
(Photo below:
ANGRY AND HUNGRY. Militant workers wore rice sacks bearing slogans as they assembled at Liwasang Bonifacio for their Labor Day march to Chino Roces Bridge in Manila to demand higher wages. The government however said it will take a few more weeks before regional wage boards can finish deliberations on wage petitions. Photo by Roger Talan; http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php?issue=2008-05-02&sec=1&aid=58173)
No longer as militant
The weakness in numbers is also accompanied by a softening of labor militancy.
Rene Magtubo, former representative of the workers party, Partido Manggagawa, told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak many workers and unions "have become conservative in their actions."
"They have this sentiment that nothing happens if you struggle. Things don’t change because of the weak labor movement," he said.

One problem is the negative attitude of many owners of enterprises toward unionism.
"There’s this stigma: if they unionize, they risk losing their jobs--even if they win their labor cases at the labor department," Magtubo said. "Workers are afraid to unionize."

From over 1,000 strike notices filed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of strike notices filed fell to 353 in 2006. This is about the same level during the middle years of martial law.
The drop in number of strikes is even more dramatic.
From a peak of 581 in 1986, the year
democracy was restored, the number of strikes/lockouts dropped to below 100 starting in 1994. And in 2006, there were only 12 strikes/lockouts, the lowest number ever recorded.
(See table: http://www.bles.dole.gov.ph/2007%20Publications/2007YLS/STATISTICAL%20TABLES/Chap19/Tab19-1.xls)
Magtubo said many problems faced by workers can only addressed by the government. Going on strike in factories will not help them attain these demands.
"The problems are socio-economic policies. Before it was per factory. Now, it’s the economic policies which affect everyone, especially our homegrown in
dustries," he said.

Flexibility

One of the biggest problems of the labor movement is the expanding use of non-regular workers such as casuals and contractual workers.
"The most common is hiring through agencies. Another is outsourcing, where you don’t bother whether the workers of the agency are regular," Ofreneo said.
As early as the 1990s, data from the labor department already showed an upward trend in non-regular workers.
The number of casual workers went up steadily from 95,000 in 1991 to 134,000 in 1997.
The number of contractual workers increased from 161,000 in 1991 to 401,000 in 1997.
(See table: http://www.bles.dole.gov.ph/2007%20Publications/2007%20PIYB/Employment%20of%20Specific%20Groups%20of%20Workers/SSGW_1977PSICALL.xls)

Ofreneo said non-regular workers may already reach 50% of the workers in the formal economy, if outsourced workers and those hired through manpower agencies are included.
He noted though that the Philippines is not alone in this trend toward "flexibilization" of labor.

"It’s happening all over the world. The term the
y use is non-standard, like part-time. There’s a lowering of labor standards," he said. Some developed countries, however, such as Australia and New Zealand, are trying to reverse this trend.
Shift in policies
Is there hope for the Philippine labor movement?
Ofreneo said the government and the business sector must adopt policies that would "transform industry and make them capable of paying higher wages and providing better benefits and good working conditions."

Among the key measures that must be adopted: sufficient protection against smuggling, which is killing local industries; protection against unfair trade practices such as dumping; a trade regime where the playing field is fair; more investments in infrastructure and technology.
"The problem of the Philippines is, low productivity is associated with the lack of investments. So when they say declining or stagnant labor productivity, it has more to do with failure of industry to invest in modern machinery, modern processes, modern facilities, training, on better work harmonization," Ofreneo said. "Unfortunately, the incentive to invest is eroded by the weak enabling environment for business."

Related Story:

Ex-gov't officials say Arroyo is anti-labor Written by Carmela Fonbuena http://newsbreak.com.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4523&Itemid=88889051

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