[OPINION] This subclass human existence of our workers

Jack Lorenz Rivera
[OPINION] This subclass human existence of our workers
'Protests are significant today to fight not for special conditions, but to fight for humane situations; not to complain, but to assert rights and to end this subclass human existence of our workers'

We were a dollar-earning family. My father worked as a sushi chef in America back when I was 7 years old – we were living comfortably. My mom, a graduate of industrial engineering at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, chose to be a homemaker back then. But everything changed when my father met his “number two.”

The remittances stopped, I had to transfer to a public school, my mother had to work – she was a single mother who had to find a job after more than a half-a-decade career gap. I tell you, my mother faced various kinds of discrimination, but she had to endure all of it because there were no laws that stopped companies from doing so, and the discrimination was masked as part of the hiring process. (READ: IN NUMBERS: What you need to know about the Philippine labor sector)

In all of her interviews, she was asked, “Who will take care of your child while you’re working?”

Asked countless times, my mom would confidently answer, “My grandmother will take care of him.” Afterwards, the company representative will say the most cliché line delivered after a job interview: “We’ll call you.” Companies did not look at her qualifications, but her personal situation – a situation that did not define her, a situation she could not change, and a situation that should not be a hindrance to her employment in the first place.

One time, because of my naivete, I got to the point where I said, “Then don’t state my existence. Eh di ‘wag mo po ko ilagay sa application form (Don’t mention me on the application form).”

Finally, my mother got hired by a popular lifestyle brand to become a factory worker in Taguig City. Living in Tondo, Manila, she had to wake up at 4 am, brave the harsh city pollution, ride a trolley, and immediately jump off from it when a train was approaching. She was doing an 8-hour job in a workplace with a lot of health hazards. All of this for a minimum wage of P492 – a minimum wage that equates to  an inhumane existence after deductions. Take note, I was an only child! How much worse, the situation of others?

One day, my mother went home with a bump on her forehead, about an inch in diameter. She walked towards me slower than usual because she was suffering from a severe headache. She met an accident at work. A filled box that was the size of a Balikbayan box fell onto her while she was working. At that time, she was prohibited to go to the clinic for she was on duty, and was only told to immediately go home after her shift. She had to finish her duty for that day despite her injury. She had to continue working in a work place with almost no ventilation, enduring the large bump on her forehead, a head-splitting headache, and body pain all over. (READ: PH still among world’s ‘worst’ countries to work in – report)

And the injustice did not end there – the company did not compensate her nor cover her medical expenses, claiming that what happened was just a “simple accident.” We were powerless – my mother had to bow down her head so that she could still work there. She had to accept her subclass human condition.

A lot of companies do not see their workers as human beings who can experience pain, emotions, and have limitations. Most companies see their workers as mere objects and instruments that will give them profit. Companies do not see the quality of the situation of the workers, rather the quality of the products they make. Companies see their workers as slaves and not as partners. A lot of employers cannot see the personal lives of their workers. They often forget that workers are humans too. (READ: [OPINION] Contractualization and the rights of workers)

That is why protests are significant today to fight not for special conditions, but to fight for humane situations; not to complain, but to assert rights and to end this subclass human existence of our workers.

This fight is your fight too. The outcome will heavily affect the people who are working right now, and if you are not, will greatly affect you when you start working too. This fight is not only for us, but also for you. We are fighting for your situation, for your rights: we are fighting for you. (READ: PH Labor Day: A history of struggle)

As you read this, I may be in Mendiola, wearing a red shirt, under the sun, braving the police, with a placard containing different slogans and calls, shouting and fighting for our workers, and most especially, fighting and shouting for the injustices my mom faced so that I can live and write this article today. – Rappler.com


Jack Lorenz A. Rivera is a 17-year-old incoming grade 12 student of Manila Science High School. He won first place in the Kabataan Sanaysay at the 68th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. This piece is his tribute to all fellow fighters of the world, and to his mother, Analea Acebedo Rivera.