MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Labor groups were enraged as President Rodrigo Duterte sacked Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, the remaining leftist appointed who was in power.
Duterte fired Maglunsod during a speech Tuesday evening, October 2 in Northern Samar. The President did not explain why, but mentioned the "rising number" of workers' strikes.
Labor groups said that Duterte "was wrong" for firing Maglunsod, as the former undersecretary was active in pushing for policies favorable for the workers.
In a text message to Rappler, Sentro secretary-general Josua Mata on Wednesday, October 3, said that Maglunsod is the "closest ally" of the workers in DOLE.
"Ironically, the labor unrest now spooking employers and even the military was largely caused by Mr Duterte's failure to live up to his promise of ending contractualization," Mata told Rappler.
Nagkaisa Labor Coalition spokesperson Rene Magtubo said Maglunsod "has bridged the gap of trust" between DOLE and the workers. He said the former underscretary is "not a non-performing asset," contrary to what Duterte made it appear in his Tuesday speech.
"He has also painstakingly conducted dialogues between employers and organized labor, relaying to them the department's effort on enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to labor contracting with the end in view of respecting the rights of both the workers and employers," Magtubo said.
The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) acknowledges Maglunsod's work as a "key official" in helping contractual workers be placed in permanent positions.
"Jomag was always ready to listen and work out solutions to workers in trouble with their employers. Jomag was key DOLE official in helping move the very important security of tenure bill," Tanjusay said.
The BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) also expressed dismay over the removal of Maglunsod, saying he was a true ally of workers during his short stint at DOLE.
“For many years, the DOLE has mimicked the interest of business to the detriment of workers. For a short period, Ka Jomag’s office as Labor Undersecretary became a reliable and easy venue for redress of grievances for workers. This is not surprising because Ka Jomag is a genuine labor leader with decades of experience as part of the grassroots labor movement,” BIEN said in a statement on Saturday, October 6.
The group thanked Maglunsod for his "contribution to the advancement of rights and welfare of workers especially BPO workers" during his time at DOLE.
"In his capacity as labor undersecretary, Ka Jomag saw to it that workers’ issues, especially contractualization, are heard. He enforced inspections of labor-only contracting practices of many companies and investigated labor standards and occupation health and safety violations. These bore fruit in orders and decisions that were in favor of the ordinary workers," BIEN said.
In the case of BPO workers, the group said Maglunsod's office "accommodated social dialogues on important workplace issues" and helped ensure "that BPO workers' voice are heard by the government and by BPO companies."
"His office was instrumental in setting a platform for dialogue for BPO companies and workers, including the lone union in the industry, the Unified Employees of Alorica (UEA)," it said.
While dismayed with what it called Maglunsod's "unjustifiable removal from office" BIEN said the labor movement was happy to have the labor leader back to its fold.
Last man standing
With Maglunsod being part of the Left, labor groups said Duterte apparently decided to sack him "heeding the advice of the military and anti-worker elements" of his administration.
They also said that removing Maglunsod in DOLE is a "sacrifice" made to "prop up the sagging image of Duterte."
Maglunsod served as the secretary general and vice chairperson of major labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno.