Maglungsod, workers’ rights, and Duterte’s children


AT the Davao Business Summit organized by the incoming Duterte administration, I caught a bit of the news conference where the promise of ending contractualization was discussed to be a matter of following the law: ENDO (end of contract) is against the law, it was repeated. That is, to hire contractual employees with the promise of ending their contracts before they are up for regularization, which means benefits and higher pay, is against the law.

What was also mentioned was the fact that there are, in fact, some industries that live off a specific kind of contractualization that isn’t bad at all. We were told, for example, that some cultural workers might only work for the duration of a TV show, which is a form of contractual employment that is acceptable. There are also call centers that take on short-term contracts that would also require them to hire agents within a fixed term.

More than just ENDO
The acknowledgment of what are seen as “acceptable” contractual work is a welcome one.

Having worked as a full-time freelance writer for the past seven years, I only know to move from contract to contract, hoping of course that the contracts never run out. This is the case for many cultural workers. And while you might imagine that this allows us to charge higher for our services, specialized as these are, take note that without a governing body that institutionalizes artists’ unions across the sectors, we are left to fend for ourselves, agreeing to contracts with unfair clauses and small pay as dictated by the sectors we work within.

It is also this kind of contractual work that has been victimized by the current government’s Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), that lumps cultural workers together with lawyers and doctors, engineers and accountants—as if we earn as much, and as regularly, too. Cultural workers are different from these kinds of professionals, and the conditions upon which we might earn a living, the relationships we have with our “employers,” and the pay that we receive, is far from being the same as doctors and engineers (who don’t have employers, but have clients).

One hopes the Duterte government will not only ensure that ENDO is finally abolished, but that it might also look at how to do right for all workers, by giving them the respect and protection they deserve.

The case of Nakashin workers
Probably the most urgent labor case that this new administration must face is the one of Nakashin’s workers in Davao.

A case of contractual work that has stretched from three to eight years, with no regularization in sight, 75 workers were dismissed on April 9 when they “refused to sign a blank waiver and quit claim and to write a resignation letter in exchange for P1,000.”

This waiver and quit claim would erase the workers’ years of service—the most effective way to keep them as contractual employees ineligible for regularization.

On April 21, the workers set up camp in front of the Japanese-owned frozen food exporter. According to Lester Millado, president of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Nakashin (NAMANA), this was to demand the reinstatement of workers. According to Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)’s Carlo Olalo, out of 300 employees only 20 workers of Nakashin are regular employees. (Davao Today, April 21)

This one seems like a simple case of labor injustice, and certainly it is right up the alley of a government that has its heart in the right place as far as labor rights are concerned.

Duterte’s children and Nakashin
The controversy that surrounds the Nakashin strike is one that might be a challenge for the incoming President himself.

On May 30, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte scolded and blamed the striking workers for the impending closure of Nakashin. The company had told the vice mayor that because of the strike, the company will close down.

Instead of reprimanding Nakashin for its refusal to respect the law and regularize its employees, the vice mayor questioned the workers and KMU. He threw insults at labor leader Dodong Basilio, former chairperson of KMU Mindanao. He insulted the striking workers when he said they were merely being “manipulated” by KMU.

Vice Mayor Duterte also asserted that he would only help workers “fed up” with KMU, and ensure their regularization once “KMU activities are done.” (Davao Today, June 2)

It is surprising that the vice mayor would think a strike to be nothing but an “activity,” as if the lives of workers did not depend on it. It is ignorant of him to imagine that workers would even be able to organize themselves, and be empowered enough to speak without a workers’ organization like NAMANA, which is, in fact, KMU.

To make matters worse for workers, Mayor Sara Duterte’s husband is the lawyer of Nakashin.

The Duterte challenge
Unsurprisingly, Vice Mayor Duterte has asked his father, the President-elect, to rethink the appointment of former Anakpawis Partylist Representative Joel Maglunsod as Undersecretary of Labor and Employment. Rep. Maglunsod has worked with the KMU for the past 30 years, and is vice president of KMU Mindanao.

Maglunsod has since called for a dialogue with the vice mayor, the KMU, and the workers on strike.

The vice mayor has called this “meddling.” He said: “I will sit down with Nakashin and the employees only as these are the only entities which stand to lose or gain from the outcome of the negotiation.” (Davao Today, June 5)

Earlier, the vice mayor had said: “We don’t need THE KMU to negotiate on our workers’ behalf. In this generation, we will stand on our own and fight for the rights of our workers in the most diplomatic way. We have to save the employees and the company.” (Davao Today, June 2)

This is painful to hear from the incoming presidential son. Even worse to hear from a vice mayor because the value of unions is immeasurable. The fact that there are so few of it in this country has meant the suffering and death of many workers, across all sectors.

The only thing that can make this worse is if incoming President Duterte agrees with his children. Here’s hoping he does not heed their call.


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  1. “The workers on strike are organized under Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Nakashin (NAMANA) and they are KMU. So when VM Duterte lambasted KMU, he lambasted the very workers he claimed to feel “sorry for”,” it added.

    The group also sees the younger Duterte as one who “lack(s) of understanding and appreciation of working class history.”

    “The fact that we have an eight-hour workday is owed to militant working class action, the workers fighting not individually but collectively, across history through strikes,” it said.

  2. Francis Dizon on

    So much for business ethics and fair wages. Without fully knowing the relevant facts I can smell exploitation. To me it is so simple. Clearly, Nakashin wanted to increase production and maximize profit to the fullest that the current labor laws permit. Sad thing about it is, it is often suggested and enforced by a local manager or lawyer wanting to impress or suck up to the owners.
    This case is both a financial and a moral dilemma to all concerned.
    It will be interesting and rather enlightening to know the end of this story. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. It’s the law of supply and demand. When there are proportionately more employable labor than available jobs, labor suffers low wages and other inconveniences like Endo. Government intervention could only do much. Businesses have their own dynamics. Interventions could result in unintended consequences like business closure, which is worse. Create more jobs, get more investment, that’s how to do it. Businesses should be fighting to hire workers, not workers fighting for the few jobs available.

  4. am with you here ms. santiago …. this will be a test of duterte’s fairness.

    i am no union lover. to me this labor “leaders” are mostly a pain in the butt. only when a company abuses its workers will i agree to have a union.

    • Labor unions are legally recognized as representatives of workers.

      Centers on collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and working conditions for their membership, and on representing their members in disputes with management over violations of contract provision.

      Ya that’s freaking horrible ain’t it.