MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III marked Labor Day with a renewed pledge to ensure the safety and competitiveness of Filipino workers wherever they may be – a vow assailed by various groups who criticized him for turning the Philippines into “a nation of Mary Janes.”
In his Labor Day message on Friday, May 1, Aquino also called on stakeholders to do their part in creating a level playing field where those who work hardest would benefit from the fruits of progress.
The President said his administration’s bid for inclusive growth is topped by efforts “to ensure that our countrymen are safe and have the means to succeed in life.”
“Saan mang sulok ng mundo sila naroroon, sinisikap tugunan ng pamahalaan ang kanilang mga pangangailangan, lalo na sa larangan ng edukasyon, pagsasanay, at agarang ayuda,” he said.
(Wherever in the world they may be, the government is striving to address their needs, especially in the areas of education, training, and immediate assistance.)
Aquino added: “Pinapanday natin ang higit na matatag na ugnayan sa puwersang manggagawa upang mapakinggan ang kanilang saloobin at mabigyan ito ng karampatang aksyon.”
(We are forging stronger coordination with the labor sector to listen to their sentiments and give the proper response.)
The President also urged “all players in the industry to do their part in establishing a level playing field, where those who are industrious can prosper and partake of the fruits of progress.”
On the eve of Labor Day, Malacañang apprised the public of its efforts to improve workers’ welfare, a self-assessment scored by labor groups who staged anti-government protests to mark International Workers’ Day on Friday. (READ: Palace: More take home pay, workers’ benefits under Aquino)
‘A nation of Mary Janes’
Party-list group Kabataan criticized the Aquino administration for stepping up its “labor export policy” and the “worsening job crisis” in the country, in contrast to the government statement suggesting otherwise.
Citing government data, Kabataan said that 3.3 million youths aged 15-34 are unemployed as of January 2015.
Kabataan party-list Representative Terry Ridon said in a statement that the situation of workers in the Philippines “is the very situation that drove thousands like Mary Jane Veloso to desperation, forcing them to rely on human traffickers just to escape the cycle of poverty.
In 2010, Indonesia sentenced the 30-year-old Veloso to death on charges of drug smuggling. Veloso, a single mother of two from Nueva Ecija, had flown to Malaysia with the intention of securing a job as a domestic helper.
She claimed that her recruiter, Maria Kristina Sergio, had duped her into flying to Indonesia with a suitcase with 2.6 kilograms of heroin hidden in the lining. Veloso has consistently maintained her innocence. (READ: The story of Mary Jane Veloso, in her own words)
The Indonesian government delayed the execution of Veloso, amid appeals from the Philippine government and an international and multisectoral clamor to save her life.
“In a way, we are a nation of Mary Janes. Her story is a story common to our generation. And unless fundamental changes are implemented, more Filipinos will be victimized, more youths will be driven to desperation,” Ridon said.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a federation of agricultural workers, said the worsening plight of farm workers have caused people like Veloso, a farm worker’s daughter, to seek a better life abroad.
“Mary Jane Veloso’s story began in Aquino’s own backyard, Hacienda Luisita. The Veloso family suffered extreme poverty despite back-breaking work in sugarcane fields endured by her father, Cesar, and Cesar’s father, Emeterio. Bogus land reform and slave wages force thousands of Mary Janes to leave the country everyday,” said UMA.
The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), however, thinks otherwise.
ECOP acting president Sergio Ortiz-Luis said on Thursday, April 30, that the country celebrates Labor Day this year with good news, including the approval of a P15-wage increase in the National Capital Region in March or from P477.03 to P492.57.
He also cited the declining unemployment rate in the country.
The results of a Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed the unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2015 hitting its lowest in 5 years. The government’s Labor Force Survey showed that the jobless rate in the country fell to 6.6% in January from 7.4% in the same month in 2014.
Ortiz-Luis also said that that over the past few years, management and labor have enjoyed industrial peace. Last year, there were only two incidents of strikes reported, he said.
“The reality is [labor] realized that is useless to go on strike because basically the minimum wage is high and we have seen no abuses from the employers’ ranks. The labor sector movement is now more rational and practical in approaching the labor issue,” Ortiz-Luis said. – Rappler.com
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