For two weeks now, we have witnessed the tragedy that razed 72 of our fellow Filipinos. The details that unfolded seemed already familiar, resembling that of the supertyphoons Yolanda and Pablo – when the victims were helpless to their fate, devoured by the flames that turned them into ashes along with the Kentex factory. But one by one the unrecognizable faces had names, fire turned into tears as families cried out their conditions inside the workforce. Investigations exposed the culprits – that this is not a mere tragedy, but a systemic neglect deeply rooted to our social ills as a struggling nation. With the death of the Kentex workers, it has never before been clearer: in a country dominated by industries cloaked as “aid from foreign investors” – there is no genuine respect for the labor force.
The Department of Labor and Employment headed by Rosalinda Baldoz and the government of Noynoy Aquino are not mere “observers” and “commentators” to this crime – they are the real masterminds as to why the conditions lead to the death of the 72. The crime of legalizing contractualization has been in operation for decades, since the birth of the Herrera Law during Cory Aquino’s term. Now, her son perpetrates and even worsens the problem, where every factory is a danger zone for workers. If not to be killed due to the lack of respect for Occupational Health Standards, workers are slowly dying caused by meager wages, loss of benefits, and no job security.
Workers, who are the heart of our economy, deserve to be treated better. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Consecutive administrations have done nothing to improve the lives of the workers, but only served the interest of foreign and local capitalists. Indeed, there can never exist a world where corporate profit-making is maximized without taking away the wealth supposedly given to the toiling masses. Contractualization has not only tied the majority of the Filipinos in the chains of poverty, it has also stunted the potential of our labor force. Contractualization has become a norm – an idea that we can make do with what we have without realizing that the elite few exploit us more when we have the right to demand for what is fair.
These are precisely the same reasons why contractual workers are learning to organize their ranks and fight for better working conditions. The ongoing strike of the 397 contractual workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. calling for regularization is a historic feat. Tanduay workers have been employed for 5 to 11 years, and yet no significant improvements were made by the management. It showcases the nature of workers to collectively resolve things – only through a militant and principled manner. The strike which started last May 18 gives hope for all contractual workers throughout the country, that there is a weapon that can be used to defend their rights when company owners like Lucio Tan tramples on their livelihood. As of press time, 50 workers and supporters have already been injured by Lucio Tan’s hired goons dressed as security guards.
Not only in Tanduay Distillers Inc. but throughout Southern Tagalog, 70% to 80% of the total labor force remain contractual. With companies like Karzai Corporation, Sagara Metro Plastic Industrial Corp. and Manila Cordage Corp. in Laguna alone, majority of contractual workers are already rising to the challenge of forming organizations leading to a genuine, militant and anti-imperialist union.
We expect that in the coming months, company owners will do everything necessary to preserve their interest for profit. But repression and violence can never stop the workers’ strength and just cause. We therefore call Filipinos from various sectors to support us.
Let us put an end to contractualization as a first step in upholding the dignity of the Filipino workers!