What labor really expects from the SONA
by: Atty JB Jimenez
Source: DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT By Atty Josephus Jimenez
Based on his past two SONAs, labor is not really expecting too much from the President this time. The nation is facing just too many problems both in the international and the local fronts. The escalating heat in the Scarborough Shoal poses a very serious challenge to the ability of this government to defend our territorial integrity. The rising crimes and the recurrent criminality in the forms of kidnapping, robberies, murders and the worsening drug problems, which reportedly involve many police officers and men, have reached such alarming proportion that even the name of Senator Ping Lacson is being floated around to solve the menace as a supercop and crime czar.
The run-away population problem, which remains unaddressed by any draconian measure, the worsening poverty of the people, the unemployment and underemployment problem, the endless diaspora of human resources and the many problems in the education sector, the inadequacy in our medical and public health systems, all these are simply overwhelming for a President who never held an executive office in any local government unit before, either as mayor or governor, and now allows himself to be surrounded by a few shooting buddies, with limited grasp of global and national perspectives.
And so, in the light of these limitations, the labor front expects the President to simply tell the truth, unadorned and unadulterated, unedited and unpretentious. Labor wants a straightforward, no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point report on what is really happening in the labor front. Workers, unions, federations and NGOs with advocacies on the side of the working class all clamor for the facts as they are, unadorned by the bureaucrats’ tendencies to exaggerate and some officials’ notorious inclinations to make mountains out of molehills.
First, the President should tell the truth about the UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that unemployment is going down, and that some good things are happening on the problem of underemployment. Let us give it straight to the people, that our elitist, unaffordable and irrelevant education system is producing millions of “educated unemployables,” that the huge problem of JOB MISMATCH is widely known by the President’s own Cabinet and there is no cohesive, purposive and strategic action that is being done to approach it. We have to be honest that nobody is focusing on reengineering our labor migration policy and that we cannot solve joblessness with endless job fairs ad nauseam.
Second, the nation has to be told that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands among our medium-scale and micro industries that are not paying the correct wages and labor standard benefits, not because they don’t want to, but because they simply cannot afford them. Because of the populist and highly speculative reading of the labor market and the economic and the dictates of politicians, the costs of operations are being raised, by legislating wage hikes, without sufficient thinking on their implications to inflation and how they could exacerbate unemployment and cost of living. This problem cannot be solved by simply hiring more inspectors but by raising the capability of employers to help workers cope with the increasing cost of living.
Third, the people have to be told that the administration of labor justice in this country is perhaps the most inefficient, the slowest, the most expensive, the most adversarial, highly legalistic, and bureaucratic and allegedly most corrupt among the Asian countries. Why does it take more than 20 years for a simple illegal dismissal case to be resolved by the Labor Arbiter, reviewed by the NLRC Commissioner, reviewed further by the Court of Appeals and finally disposed by the Supreme Court? Why do we need too many layers of labor-adjudication system to deliver what the Constitution and the Labor Code promise to deliver, that is speedy, expeditious and inexpensive labor justice? Why are some favored law firms and overly influential lawyers able to obtain judgments by a mere letter or telephone call?
Labor does not need any highfalutin principle or high-sounding theories. They need the truth. They need action. They don’t need too many MOAs or AOs, they cannot eat administrative orders for breakfasts. They don’t need labor officials to be spending most of their time attending international conferences in Geneva or in the US. They need these public servants to serve the people, really meet them and understand their problems. The President has a lot to discover if he shall go beyond self-serving reports and talk to the frontliners. Like what the Vice President is doing with our migrant workers and in the housing sector, the President should, once in a while, go out of his ivory tower and know what is really happening on the ground. And knowing the truth, he should tell the nation.
The SONA this time must be a testament of truth. The President may play games on other issues, like lending one billion to the IMF. But to the labor front, he should be forthright. The people deserve no less.