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Employers’ highhanded treatment of their workers – Atty JBJ

Source: DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT By Atty Josephus Jimenez

Not only in the scriptures but also in Philippine labor laws, that this dictum appears overriding: To whom much is given, much is expected. In our labor statutes and jurisprudence, employers are called upon to exercise utmost diligence, and even solicitousness in making sure that the rights of their workers are respected, their human dignity cared for and the exacting standards of labor regulations are complied with. The State is mandated to afford full protection to labor especially because employers have all the power, resources and knowledge. Thus, the law mandates that all doubts shall be resolved in favor of labor and that, in most labor disputes, the employers bear the burden of proof.

It is therefore unfortunate that in many cases decided by labor tribunals, as well as by the appellate and the Supreme Court, some employers have been tested and were found wanting. Many of these employers are spending millions in public relations and advertisement. They go long miles in building goodwill and projecting a favorable public image in the minds of their clientele and market segments. And yet, many of these huge business empires don’t pay minimum wages to their workers, deny them of labor standards benefits, make them work in sweatshops and harsh working environment, and deny them of their freedom to organize unions. They even compel them to be casuals and contractuals, and would rather deal with labor-only contractors. Many workers are dismissed without just causes and without due process. Workers are treated with disdain and condescension, and even with high-handed arrogance and injustice.

No less than the Highest Court has denounced the many acts of unfair labor practices, illegal dismissal, and rampant denial of just and humane conditions of work, not to mention the widespread violations of the law on minimum wage as well as the standards to safeguard the workers, health, safety and welfare of workers. The DOLE and its many related agencies must explain to the people why many sales ladies remain casuals and contractuals despite the Labor Secretary’s strict regulation on job-contracting. They must explain why there a lot of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, why unions are being busted, and why workers are being dismissed with neither just cause nor with any semblance of due-process. The Labor Arbiters and the Commissioners of the NLRC should explain why simple cases take years to decide.

As a former DOLE Undersecretary and Labor Arbiter, it pains me to no end to hear true-to-life stories, coming from the victims themselves, not only of justice delayed but also of justice denied blatantly and seemingly without remorse. Human rights and labor rights are being violated. And yet, no one is raising a howl. There is a scary conspiracy of indifference. Neither the government officials entrusted with the duty to stop them, nor the unions and federations that are supposed to protect workers, neither the Church that has the stature and powers to exert pressures against the perpetrators of labor injustice. Not even these party list congressmen who dare claim that they are for the marginalized sectors in society. No one is lifting a finger.

Here is a case of a giant chain of malls and supermarts, which kicked out a probationary cashier based on mere suspicion of having stolen a measly amount from the cash box, to which many others have access. This poor girl was singled out. She was stripped searched, and even when nothing was found in her possession, the powerful employer had her arrested by the police, booked for stealing, without a lawyer, and was jailed for two weeks as her family had yet to beg and borrow P40,000 to post bond. I was in tears when I read this case. The girl stood alone and unaided. After so many years, from 1997 to 2011, when she fought her legal battle in court, justice came, albeit quite late. On January 19, 2011, the highest court declared that the dismissal was illegal. The Court denounced the highhandedness by which this gargantuan conglomerate treated this poor girl. This was in GR 177937, a  case that deeply wounds my heart. I will never step inside that mall.

Another woman, a sales supervisor, was also dismissed in the same highhanded manner. Her guilt was prejudged. Her employer had her arrested and peremptorily charged criminally. Her termination letter was slapped on her one day prior to the scheduled investigation. The management found her guilty even before she was asked any question. This was in GR 153569, decided by the High Tribunal on January 24, 2012. These two cases are indicative of how many employers treat workers who have worked for them and make their business prosper.

Evil triumphs because the good men are doing nothing. Cases of grave injustice like these should make us deeply concerned, if not alarmed. If we continue to remain silent and indifferent, then we should all be ashamed of ourselves as Christians. What a shame.