The struggle at Philippine Air Lines
and the struggle of the Philippine working class
Editorial, Ang Bayan
November 21, 2010
It is just for the workers of Philippine Air Lines (PAL) to struggle to the hilt against plans to terminate almost 3,000 regular workers of the company and replace them with contractual agency workers. The struggle against this outsourcing scheme is widespread and fully supported by the working class and the toiling masses.
It is not only the livelihood of PAL workers and their families that is at stake in this struggle. Big capitalists will grow more emboldened to engage in outsourcing, especially with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) upholding PAL's plans.
This struggle is in line with the workers' struggle against labor "flexibilization" which imperialists have been enforcing since the 1990s. The exploitation of Filipino workers has worsened in the past two decades through various forms of labor "flexibilization" such as casualization and contractualization and through the currently expanding system of outsourcing.
These systems, which have become standard practice are enforced through gross deception, coercion and intimidation. Forcible retirement, among other means, is resorted to in order to boot out regular workers and replace them.
From 15% in the early 1990s, almost 80% of the country's workers are now casuals and contractuals. Such a practice has become widespread, mainly among big comprador capitalists like PAL owner Lucio Tan. In 1999, Tan got rid of 5,000 out of PAL's 12,500 workers and replaced them with contractuals from a conspiring agency. If his latest scheme to replace another 3,000 workers succeeds, up to 70% of PAL's work force will have been oursourced.
Outsourcing is also being enforced in other enterprises owned by Lucio Tan. At the Victorias Milling Corporation, where Lucio Tan is majority owner, practically the entire work force has been outsourced. At Fortune Tobacco, there are plans to boot out 2,400 workers and replace them with contractuals.
There are now more contractuals compared to regular workers in more than 70% of Philippine enterprises. This is the case in some of the biggest companies like San Miguel Corporation (96%), SM Shoemart (94%), Dole Philippines (77%) and PLDT (60%). ABS-CBN was recently in the news when it terminated 100 contractual workers that it employed through its own agency, the ABS-CBN Internal Job Market. Almost 100% of those employed by the much-vaunted call centers (which account for the biggest number of jobs outsourced by foreign companies) are contractual, as well as in fastfood chains like Jollibee.
The widespread employment of contractual workers enables capitalists to intensify exploitation and increase their superprofits. Contractuals receive far lower wages compared to regular workers doing the same jobs. In most cases, the contractuals are given wages that are even lower than the legal minimum. They are deprived of the rights and benefits enjoyed by regular workers.
Capitalists actually have very few obligations, if any, to contractual workers. The practice of requiring contractuals to work more than eight hours a day or during holidays without overtime pay is widespread. So is the no work-no pay policy and the deprivation of medical or other benefits. Many contractual workers are likewise employed without written contracts and can thus be made to perform work heavier than they expected and in many cases, even illegal acts. They can be terminated for the slightest infraction and without being given a chance to defend their side.
The low wages received by contractuals further pull down the value of labor in the Philippines. In the face of widespread unemployment and their desperation to land whatever jobs are available, contractual workers are forced to accept the measly wages and oppressive work conditions attendant to their temporary employment.
Crippling unions or nipping them in the bud are among the main objectives of imperialists and their big comprador capitalist co-conspiratirs in enforcing widespread labor "flexibilization." Although illegal, most labor contracts contain provisions prohibiting workers from engaging in union activities. Contractual workers' limited employment periods also prevent them from unionizing.
The contractualization of labor has already dealt a severe blow on the unionization of workers. After almost two decades of labor "flexibilization," only about 5% of workers are organized into unions (from 15% in 1995). Moreover, only up to 200,000 workers (less than 1% of the labor force) are covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA).
With labor "flexibilization" widespread and labor unions rendered inutile, Filipino workers are subjected to the gravest forms of exploitation and their rights violated unrelentingly. Many of the victories won by the working class through the struggles it waged in the last century are being trampled on, violated and reversed. A huge percentage of the masses of workers have been reduced to semiproletarian status in the last two decades.
The degradation of the Philippine working class has been made possible by the puppet Philippine government, upon the dictates of its imperialist master. The National Employment Plan that was drafted way back during Corazon Aquino's administration openly encouraged contractualization purportedly as a means of raising business competitiveness. The plan has been further buttressed by other orders issued by subsequent governments that encouraged and allowed various forms of labor "flexibilization."
These are among the key policies being pushed by imperialism under the "free market" globalization framework. They are being enforced as adjuncts to the policies of liberalization, denationalization, privatization and deregulation. The goal is to eradicate measures that protect the national economy and give free rein to foreign monopoly capitalists to invest their surplus capital, dump their surplus goods, extract national wealth and resources and exploit cheap labor in the semicolonies.
Through labor "flexibilization," semicolonies are made to compete with each other in offering the cheapest and most docile workers in order to attract foreign big capitalist investors. Contractualization is now being undertaken on a global scale, with parts of monopoly capitalist production outsourced to lower-paid contractual workers in semicolonies. The proliferation of call centers in the Philippines is part of this phenomenon.
The struggle against labor contractualization and various forms of "flexibilization" is among the major struggles of the working class in the country. We must forge the broad unity of the Filipino people to resist and put a stop to the oppressive and exploitative system of contractualization. Just as the PAL workers are now doing, all unions and organizations of workers and the toiling masses must assail the growing practice of outsourcing and contractualization in various industries and companies and oppose imperialist and puppet government policies that advocate them.
We must also persevere in organizing workers--both regulars and contractuals--into unions and various kinds of associations or movements in their workplaces, in agencies that supply contractuals or in communities. These organizations must defend workers' rights, which includes demanding higher wage increases and the regularization of employment.
It is crucial for the toiling masses, all progressive forces and the entire Filipino people to unite with and support the difficult struggle of the working class against labor "flexibilization" and other neoliberal economic policies. They must forge and widen the path of struggle for decent jobs, living wages and workers' rights, and mobilize even the toiling masses who are unemployed as well as other democratic sectors that are supportive of the interests of workers.
The struggle for decent work and higher wages is closely linked to the demand and struggle for genuine land reform and national industrialization and for a self-reliant and progressive economy. Thus, the revolutionary forces, working class leaders and national democratic activists must do their all to arouse the broad masses and lead them towards the path of revolutionary struggle and the attainment of fundamental social change.