KMU: Workers don't feel economic growth
MANILA, Philippines - Militant workers defied the plea of President Benigno Aquino III to observe Labor Day as a celebration instead of treating it as "a day of picket signs and shouting."
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) led protesters in the annual labor day rally in Manila on Wednesday, May 1. The group estimated the crowd at 30,000. Police said there were only 2,000 of them.
The labor group, regarded as the largest militant labor center in the Philippines, expressed dismay over Aquino's refusal to address workers' demand for wage hike and other labor concerns even as the government claimed robust economic growth.
"For almost 3 years, Aquino has consistently rejected calls for a significant wage hike," KMU chairperson Elmer Labog said.
According to the labor leader, a wage hike is something that workers "can immediately feel as a much-needed relief."
KMU has long been advocating a legislated P125 wage increase across the board.
Labog also criticized the Aquino government for its alleged attempts to impose wage cuts and wage freezes through the 2-tiered wage system. He added that "policies that are repressive of workers’ right to unionize, collectively bargain and strike" are still enforced.
Long term solutions
Aquino on Tuesday, April 30 gave a thumbs down to labor groups’ demands, citing their negative effects in the long term.
"We must make sure that the solutions we propose see past the short-term," Aquino said in a pre-Labor Day dialogue with select labor sector representatives.
"Every Labor Day, it seems it has become tradition for labor and management to position themselves in opposing sides. Always, there are rallies. Always, there are disagreements," Aquino said.
He noted the difficulty of the government's position to mediate the interests of labor and management.
Aquino defended his government, enumerating his achievements in the economic front that he claimed have direct effects on workers and investors.
"The world is witness to the large-scale change we have achieved in the Philippines. This explains the rush of investors in our country, as well as the investment grade rating that we garnered for the first time in our history. This is also why our stock exchange index has breached the 7,000 mark, and the near-daily all-time highs," Aquino noted.
Aquino proposed long-term measures in response to workers’ demands. The measures included hiring more Labor Law compliance officers who would crack down companies’ abusive practice of renewing workers’ contracts every 5 months and amending the Social Security System (SSS) pension scheme.
This however would require “a little sacrifice,” Aquino admitted.
Labor over capital
KMU lamented that it's the workers who create the country's wealth but they hardly feel it in their pockets.
"It is ironic that Pres Aquino commends the country’s workers for a 'good job' in relation to the so-called growth of the economy but refuses to make this growth felt by workers in a concrete and immediate way," Labog said.
KMU found an ally in Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, who led a concelebrated Mass for workers at the Quiapo Church Wednesday morning.
In his homily, Tagle preached on the primacy of "labor over capital," calling upon employers to give human dignity more importance than profit.
“The first is still the dignity of man created in the image of God and who was given by God the sacred mission of participating in his work,” Tagle said.
The cardinal also recognized the contribution of ordinary Filipino workers to the society, calling them “heaven sent.”
“Without you our society or our nation would not exist,” he added. “You are the image of God. Thank you very much to all workers.”
After the mass, faith leaders joined members of different labor unions in a solidarity boodle lunch outside the Church to show the unity between workers and religious sector.
An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also expressed support for the proposed P125 wage increase to help narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who chairs the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) said the country’s supposed economic growth is useless it will not trickle down to the ordinary Filipinos.
A wage hike, he said, is necessary for the people to cope with the rising cost of living.
“It’s really one issue that the government should face this Labor Day if they really want an even growth for everybody and not just for the few,” Pabillo said.
Pope Francis in his Labor Day message urged political leaders to make every effort to create jobs, saying that unemployment was caused by economic thinking "outside the bounds of social justice."
Militant labor endorses Casiño (Check his profile here and vote in the Rappler poll)
From Quiapo, the trade unions and militant groups marched to the nearby Liwasang Bonifacio for a 2-hour program with leaders of some party list groups advocating labor reforms in attendance.
The labor groups also endorsed the senatorial bid of Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, who is running under the Leftist Makabayan Coalition
In a fiery speech, Casino said that workers should fight for their labor rights because they could not depend on Aquino to do this.
"Ang pinakamalaking salot sa mga manggagawang Pilipino ay ang gobyernong Aquino," Casino said. (The Aquino government is the greatest plague of Filipino workers)
The rallyists then marched toward Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang, where they ended their day-long rally by burning a 10-feet-tall effigy of Aquino and US President Barack Obama depicted as two serpents around an electric post that symbolized the people. The effigy sought to portray the Aquino government as an "anti-worker and pro-capitalist"
At least 2.9 million Filipinos were reported to be jobless while 7.9 million do not have enough work as the country observed the 127th International Workers’ Day. - with reports from Roy Lagarde/Rappler.com