PAL Labor Rights Issue Maybe Brought Up During Aquino’s U.S. Trip

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (jGLi) – For getting insufficient information before coming up with a decision, Philippine President Noynoy Aquino’s government efforts to be in the good graces of the United States government could be in jeopardy.

Mr. Aquino is slated to have a state visit at the White House next month and the labor rights issue could be a sore thumb that could stick out or a pain in the neck.

 

When President Aquino affirmed the recommendation of his Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz to side with the Philippine Airlines (PAL) management to terminate the employment of 2,600 members of PAL Employees Association (PALEA) because PAL was in the red, Mr. Aquino was given incomplete information by his subalterns.

Gerardo “Gerry” F. Rivera, PALEA president, told this reporter in an exclusive interview here over the weekend that Mr. Aquino should have demanded a copy of the financial statement from PAL before coming up with his decision. The President would have reversed course.

Mr. Rivera said when President Aquino affirmed the labor order on Aug. 11, 2011, the financial statement of PAL for 2010 to 2011 showed Asia’s first flag carrier turned a US$72.5-million (or approximately 3-billion Philippine pesos) profit.

Mr. Aquino tried to sweeten the separation pay for each of the 2,600 by adding 50,000 pesos (US$1,190.00) each on top of another 50,000 pesos separation pay proposed by the Labor Secretary to each union employee. But nobody touched the offer with a ten-foot pole.  “It was simply beneath our dignity as a lowly worker to accept such offer,” Rivera added. He said they want jobs and job security, not a token giveaway.

Mr. Rivera was in town to attend the two-day international Labor Notes Conference that started May 4 at suburban Rosemont, Illinois.

APPEALED THE PRESIDENT’S DECISION

Because they did not agree with the President’s decision, Rivera said they filed an appeal before the Philippine Court of Appeals within the reglamentary period.

Despite the appeal that they thought would stay the President’s decision, the PAL management went ahead with its long-planned decision to “outsource” all the 7,500 PAL employees, terminating their employment and offering them the same positions from a “third party service provider” but with reduced salaries and loss of seniority.

Rivera cited himself as an example. “I was earning 31,500 pesos (US$750.00) a month as a regular employee. If I accept outsourcing, I will get P11,111 (US$265.00) monthly from a service provider at nagka-onsehan na. (We were ripped off). No more benefits. You can do nothing because you are locked out unless you claim separation benefits. And what they did was wrong. There is a pending case (to compensate) our dignity. All of a sudden, we are all out of jobs.”

Bago pa man manaog ang desisyon ng Court of Appeals, tinangal na kami, di ba grave coercion yan bukod sa violation of our labor rights to join a labor union guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution? (Even before the decision of the Court of Appeals was handed down, we were already penalized by terminating our services. Isn’t it grave coercion and violation of our rights to join a labor union guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution?), Rivera asked.

“What was galling,” according to Rivera, “was that PAL employees agreed with PAL management to suspend the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for ten years from 1998 so we would not demand salary raises because PAL was then losing money. But before the ten-year rehabilitation became due, in 2007, PAL was back on its feet  financially. We even extended the moratorium until 2009 but it was also that year that PAL planned to outsource us. Instead of patting us in our backs, there was a sinister move. They don’t like CBA negotiations, and they killed the union so they will make more money.”

USTR OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Rivera added because PALEA could not get justice from PAL, the Philippine government and Philippine Congress, he accepted an invitation from a U.S.-based non-government organization, International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), which wrote a letter earlier to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington, D.C. to let him ventilate the violations of the labor rights of Filipinos under the Aquino government, notably against PALEA members.

Last Jan. 24, 2012, Rivera spoke before a hearing organized by the USTR and laid bare the union bustings instigated by PAL management backed by the Philippine government.

Others, who testified in that hearing, were Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Labor Undersecretary Rebecca Chato and Undersecretary of Justice Francisco Baraan and other officials from the Philippine Embassy, and Joshua Mata, secretary general of Alliance of Progressive Labor of the Philippines.

Luzviminda G. Padilla, Philippine labor attaché, when reached by this reporter for comment, said the “USTR public hearing was open to the public, “that includes you and me,” for those interested in the Philippines’ GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) review.

“Six country beneficiaries of GSP were subject of the two-day public hearing. The full minutes of the hearing is on the USTR website. The public hearing was not on outsourcing, neither on the PALEA case. It was not about Save Act (The pending “Save Our Industries Act” (S. 1244) or Save Act introduced in the 112th Congress).

“It was about the review of pending country practices petitions related to concerns about internationally recognized workers rights.  Incidentally, the PALEA case is still an ongoing matter before the Court of Appeals.”

According to USTR’s website, USTR is mandated by law to implement the GSP, which is a preferential tariff system extended by developed countries (also known as preference giving countries or donor countries) to developing countries (also known as preference receiving countries or beneficiary countries). It involves reduced MFN (most favored nation) Tariffs or duty-free entry of eligible products exported by beneficiary countries to the markets of donor countries.”

The pending Save Act (S. 1244) would expand U.S. export of fabrics to the Philippines from $11-million today to up to $500 million annually within 3-5 years of implementation and save/create some 3,000 jobs in the U.S. textile industry. It would restore hundreds of thousands of apparel manufacturing jobs and over $1 billion of Philippine apparel exports to the U.S. lost since the lifting of the U.S. apparel import quotas and the resulting dominance of China of the U.S. market.

The same bill has been publicly endorsed by U.S. State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton to be passed by the U.S. Congress during the 2 + 2 bilateral conference last week at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

US-PH GOODS AND SERVICES TRADE REACHES $17-B

The same USTR website says, “U.S. goods and services trade with the Philippines totaled $17 billion in 2009 (latest data available for goods and services trade combined). Exports totaled $7.6 billion; Imports totaled $9.3 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with the Philippines was $1.6 billion in 2009.”

It adds among others, under the “discretionary criteria for country eligibility under GSP,” the (U.S.) President must take into account in determining whether to designate a country as beneficiary country for purposes of the GSP program, “7)  Whether such country has taken or is taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights, including 1) the right of association, 2) the right to organize and bargain collectively, 3) freedom from compulsory labor, 4) a minimum age for the employment of children, and 5) acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health.”

When told that PAL has a new management, the San Miguel Corporation headed by Mr. Ramon Ang, Mr. Rivera said, “it is a positive sign and I am waiting for Mr. Ang’s response to my letter to meet with him.”

While in Chicago, community organizer Juanita Salvador-Burris had introduced Mr. Rivera to be guest at radio station WBEZ91.5 for “Worldview Interview” and met with labor leaders, Jorge Ramirez, president of Chicago Federation of Labor, and Henry Tamarin, Executive Vice President, Unite Here.

Aside from moral and spiritual support, Mr. Rivera is also seeking financial support for those picketing union members at the “In-flight Center of PAL before Terminal -2 at PAL-Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Supporters are also urged to sign the online petition at

http://www.change.org/petitions/fight-corporate-greed-support-locked-out-workers-boycott-philippine-airlines  and for financial assistance by donating online to sustain the campout, to help PALEA members who have been without jobs and wages for the last five months and to lend a hand to the families and children who sacrificed as much via  the website of Partido ng Manggagawa [Labor Party-Philippines]:

http://laborpartyphilippines.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=21&Itemid=43

Or by sending donations by bank to:PALEA Strike Fund Account Number 00008-057-00403-9 Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) Quirino Ave., Baclaran, Paranaque City, Philippines. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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