May 1st was Labor Day in the Philippines. This event marks a day in which the Filipino worker is celebrated, but also the perfect day to bring awareness to current issues that affect workers today.
Around 20,000 Filipino workers marched the streets of Manila in a peaceful protest, calling on their president Rodrigo Duterte to make socioeconomic reforms. The people wish for an end to contractual labor, which allows for companies to only employ workers for a short period of time. Contractual labor essentially cuts the benefits of its workers since they do not have regular employee status. The protesters also called for a nationwide increase in the minimum wage to 750 Philippine pesos (P750) a day, which is about fifteen US dollars, as well as for better quality jobs and working conditions for women.
“Women need to be involved in production work and political activity to improve their skills and status. With only half of the working age population of 32.5 million counted in the labor force, women’s empowerment remains an unreachable goal,” said Jojo Guan, the executive director of the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR).
According to the CWR, only 50.1 percent of Filipina’s in the working age population are a part of the labor force, and the women that are working are employed in the industries with the lowest wages. 71 percent are employed in the services sector, 10 percent in industry and 18.9 percent in agriculture. Women workers in wholesale and retail trade receive a low wage of P302, or around six US dollars, per day. Most women look for alternative sources of income on top of these jobs, which results in underperformance in their line of work.
“The country fails to create productive industry jobs, which result to more women finding jobs in the services sector, assigning them in low-skilled, low wage, and non-regular jobs. With such trend of jobs available to women, they could hardly unleash their potential as nation builders,” said Guan.
The workers were led by the effigy of a patriotic vulture, which represented the United States and the neoliberal policies it promotes. Neoliberalism is a controversial economic model that emphasizes free market economies. Critics of neoliberalism believe that the approach focuses on profits and not on the people’s welfare and development. Many claim that the implementation of neoliberal policies in the Philippines has given Filipino women and their families less of a chance for a better life.
“The government recognizes these basic rights of workers in all industries and we are committed to protect and defend these rights,” President Rodrigo Duterte responded. He also hailed workers for playing “a significant role in pushing for the right to humane conditions at work, basic wages, and organized acts including collective bargaining and unionism.” The president did not mention contractual labor in his message.
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