An OFW in Hades, Labor Day and the sad state of workers

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OFW Mary Jane Veloso’s incarceration would have not stirred the nation’s conscience a bit if it were not for three things:  she might still face a firing squad despite the stay of her execution, she is in an Indonesian jail and there were international appeals to save her from her doomed fate.

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Were it not for the decision of Jakarta to hold her death sentence and review her case, she would have been Flor Contemplacion and her sad Singapore story all over again.

The fact that capital punishment, an eye for an eye, is itself on its death throes in most civilized parts of the globe, made the death by firing squad in Indonesia (which was the fate suffered by Veloso’s co-indictees in the Bali Nine case), appear inhuman and out of place. And a jolt to evolving global trends on crime and punishment.

Mary Jane Veloso’s tragic Indonesian saga would probably be in the news for a while for the reasons mentioned above. Then, her life story, God should forbid this from happening, would be exploited by the movies for commercial gains. Or by the TV networks looking for a hit.

Then, like Contemplacion, it would fade from public consciousness as the headlines shift to a baser, grimmer story.

The attention span on the tragic stories of OFWs – and all Filipino workers for that matter – has the shelf life of a popular fast-food chain’s cheap spaghetti offering. Very few will even notice that the stay on the death sentence of Veloso came just a few days before the celebration of Labor Day. And on Labor Day 2015, very few asked: What has happened to the Filipino working class? Here are a few answers:

• The Filipino worker, on whose back the immense wealth of the country’s superrich is built, is largely invisible to policy makers.

• The Labor Code is a Jurassic document and there are no initiatives to amend it to attune it to the times.

• The minimum wage determination is being done by regional tripartite bodies that do not even realize that they have one of the most urgent and most vital mandates in government. The bodies are blissfully unaware that they are dealing with the lives of exploited millions.

• No one high up in policy making has ever denounced the evils of contractual work arrangements.

• There is no set of rules governing BPO workers, which is expected to have a revenue of $26 billion by next year.

• Retail and service industry workers here are often paid slave wages and their wage scales make Walmart and McDonalds look like the paragons of enlightened employers.

• There is no initiative from Congress, none whatsoever, to recapture its mandate on wage-setting just to make sure that, when there is a need, the floor wage is adjusted across the country in one piece of legislation.

• The percentage of organized workers is a low single digit and whether this is four, five or six percent is a debatable issue.

• We are heading toward the total evisceration of organized labor.

• Civil society and the country’s public intellectuals have banished labor issues and workers’s rights from their agenda.

• No one marches on Labor Day with fervor anymore. The clenched fists are gone. No one is brave enough to say Workers of the Country Unite, There is Nothing to Lose but our Miseries.

• And this is the clincher:  Mr. Aquino does not see a capitalist that he does not like. And does not see a worker that he does not ignore.

As for the OFWs, policy makers often speak of remunerative jobs in the domestic market to attract the OFWs into returning home for good. Up to now, such jobs are non-existent and as a prominent banker has said the economy is a “ two-stop shop” of OFW remittances and BPO revenues. What he did not mention was this: the government has a marketing policy on the two sectors but nothing on the empowerment of the human components.

Labor Day has come and gone and what workers got from government was the standard “blah, blah.”

The government of Mr. Aquino is probably exulting in the timidity of labor, the evisceration of the unions and the absence of personalities as commanding and as fiery as Felixberto Olalia, Boni Tupas and the likes.

In earlier times, with organized labor assertive and undaunted, workers celebrated Labor Day with marches that stretched through kilometers, a sea of clenched fists and defiant banners. Then, it was not a boxing match that could     put the country at a standstill—it was the collective voice of workers about to storm the palace gates to seek redress for a grievance.

Today, it is different.

Labor’s plaints have been reduced to a whimper. Even a timid version of this – Workers Unite! There is Nothing to Lose but Our Miseries—is unsaid.

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6 Comments

  1. Workers should be given a break but fixing / increasing minimum wage is not the answer … We need jobs , jobs, jobs, we need to increase production , improve infrastructure and support producer/farmers /cooperatives with credit , fertilizer , less regulation and the like .. More education on technical courses , less taxes for small business , less red tape , BIR off their backs so prices will drop as business / farms become more efficient …. Don’t blame the super rich . Blame the government for neglecting the less privileged and granting benefits to the wealthy .. allow lands to be purchased by foreigners and 100 % foreign investments

    REPLY:
    BUt, sir, please remember that it is the super rich and the elite dynasties that create the government. The Congress are theirs and the president also. They now have the PCOS machines to perpetuate the reign of the PNoy Aquino gang.

  2. “Inequality materializes the upper class, vulgarizes the middle class, and brutalizes the lower class.”
    Matthew Arnold – 1850
    Cambridge Don & Headmaster

    “A State divided into a small number of rich and a large number of poor will always develop a government manipulated by the rich to protect the amenities represented by their property.”
    Harold Laski – 1900
    Political Scientist

  3. Claro Apolinar on

    A sign that the Philipines has always been controlled by elite families is that no administration–except that of Diosdado Macapagal–ever tried to make the Philippines a “welfare state” just like all the countries of Europe did and even the United States, in a way, is.
    The “welfare state” was strongly supported by unions.
    But the elite voices here in our country made it seem that to have welfare state legislation was socialist and even communist and anti-business.
    That is the reason we have the biggest number of dirt poor people and jobless. And why the SMs and the other corporations dare impose contractualization on Filipino workers as a way to exempt themselves from the labor laws.
    But they will answer to God in the end, They will either stay forever in hell or spend a much longer time being purged of their sins than the poor, many of whom, will go straight to heaven because by their sufferings here on earth due to their poverty they have already undergone a lot of time being purged of their sins.

    • …and they will have no answer to the God asking ” How did you amass your fortune? “…. and they will re-invent their answers but alas they cannot manipulate the Omnipotent. The wrath of fire is for them to bear. SM Sy is destined and et al….they have abused the working class and built upon their labor so much wealth…yes it is recorded in heaven and yes including their cohorts in government identifed. You all will be skewered in hell.

  4. The Philippines is in an abusive relationship. Elitist dynastic masters and corrupt oligarchs subjugating their slaves to degradation and deprivation.
    Time for Juango to be unchained and reclaim some dignity and self-respect.
    Pride does not come from the endeavours of others, but from personal achievement.

    Keep them poor, keep them uneducated, keep them entertained, keep them working (preferably abroad), steal their money.

    In dystopia, where everything is ‘world class’ reality is but an illusion, and delusion is protection against reality, only dysfunction rules.

    And over time both the level of abuse increases and the disconnect from reality stengthens.

    Hoodlums pretending to be hacienderos, nouveau riche displaying their lack of class, oligarchs thinking they are businessman, actors playing politicians. The formula for 3rd world mediocrity.

    Pnoy Aquino does not have the intellect, integrity, or indepence of mind to do anything but count the days until he retires, not that he has ever actually worked in his wasted life – that’s what slaves are there for.

    “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength”
    George Orwell

    Don’t ask what can i do for the country, ask what has the country done for the me.
    ‘Bosses’, or slaves.

    Voting for the same dynastic politicians and believing the same empty promises year after year comes close to political insanity.

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and
    over again and expecting different
    results”
    Albert Einstein

  5. Joel Ramos on

    And Coloma made mention of BS Aquino’s “milestones” in labor. This is the problem…our government leaders won’t even take the time to reach for a dictionary.