Today, ask a gainfully employed 30-year old Pinoy this question: do you have a CBA? Chances are he will react with either puzzlement or confusion. Is this old jerk asking about an app? Or a semi-pro hoops league somewhere? The acronym is unheard of, he has never encountered it before. During the course of his employment probably spanning 30 to 40 years, he probably will never encounter that acronym.
Throughout his employment, he will never get the opportunity to get paid – at least theoretically – the full worth of his dedicated labor. Labor, or service rendered, according to its worth.
CBA stands for collective bargaining agreement. It is the agreement signed by employers and employees on the terms of labor’s engagement, which the employers either signed willingly or with much reluctance. In that first case, the employers signed because (1) they felt they shortchanged the employees or had the upper hand in negotiating the agreed-upon CBA, or the employees had underwhelming terms during the negotiations. In the second case, the employers were forced to sign to avert a strike or they wanted to present a public face of being pro-labor.
A CBA contains, first, the economic benefits headlined by the wage rate. Then, the non-wage benefits which are the perks and the extras thrown in on top of the salaries and wages. The life span of a CBA is normally three years. When an agreement lapses, another round of CBA negotiations begin.
During much of the latter half of the 20th century, workers lived and died for the CBA. It was the end-all-be-all for organized labor.
Organized labor. That lofty status — workers with a registered trade union and solidly committed to that union — was what gave 20th century workers the right to demand CBA negotiations with employers.
As the muscles of organized labor atrophied, as the factories ravaged by foreign competition and trade liberalization closed shop, as the dominant sector in the broader economy shifted to service, as technology altered the norms of labor-employer relationship, as core industries such as steel and textile went under, the number of trade unions with CBAs dropped to a historic low.
Organized labor, which used to send capital into a standstill with the sheer number of protesting warm bodies with placards and clenched fists, is in its death throes as the nation celebrates Labor Day 2017.
There are between 42 million to 43 million economically-active Filipinos, the majority of which are supposedly employed or underemployed. Between 15 million and 25 million have the right to form unions and seek collective bargaining agreements. For one reason or another, the organized part of that massive labor force is in the single digit, a low single digit. Is it four percent or five percent?
Organized labor used to make up 13 percent to 15 percent of the work force. There were organized workers in banks (that was where the late Nacing Lacsina made a name), factories, newspaper offices. There were hardly major seaports with non-union workers. And these were disciplined workers who were oftentimes armed with ideological persuasions. Now, the “ideology” of a typical Filipino worker is getting a “selfie” during breaks.
If trade union membership, the possession of a union card, represented the power of labor and the protection of those in the organized category then, the 21st century saw the atrophied muscles of trade union groups.
With the membership down to a low single digit and stripped of the collective power to pressure the powers that be to listen to the plaints and demands of workers, the terms of engagement between labor and capital likewise scrapped the iron-clad guarantee to protect and promote the interest of the working man.
Let us look at the harsh realities that are current in the labor sector, viewed from the prism of the working man.
The Labor Code is so obsolete that one of the largest employment sectors, which earned more than $22 billion in revenue last year, is not even covered by the Code. There is nothing that defines the wage structures, security of tenure, and non-wage benefits of BPOs. Legislators are clueless on the labor-capital aspects of BPOs as these are mostly offshore jobs from the US or India. The fundamental question on whether or not labor unions can organize BPO workers has not been answered because no one dares to organize the BPO workers.
Policy makers seem content that the BPO industry is a giant revenue earner and its workers get decent pay.
The worst is “Endo”, which is now part of the “new normal” in employee-employer relationships. Many employers terminate their workers and staff before the six-month regularization requirement of the Labor Code,
invoking an end-of-contract provision that is both immoral and without precedent.
Mr. Duterte promised during the campaign to do away with “Endo” but his labor department, in a new ruling, all but endorsed it. True, manpower companies are now under strict scrutiny and have to follow stringent rules.
The burden fell on manpower providers, not on the employers. After the vacillation and meanderings on how to write the new “Endo” rules, the sector that won in the new ruling were the employers.
As the CBA got eviscerated and the dignity of labor vanished into the fog of distant memory, “Endo” is now King. On Labor Day 2017, workers have nothing but their chains and their misery.