Philippines: Precarious work, extreme inequality persist a year after historic strike

Protest of striking workers from Pacific Plaza.

The Philippines’ labour movement commemorated the first anniversary of the historic Pacific Plaza Towers workers’ strike on August 6.

The workers, all members of Pacific Plaza United Action of Labor (PUNYAL), had long been exploited by the condominium’s managers.

Half the workforce were employed on short-term contracts, via dubious third-party job contractors (labour hire), paid starvation wages, and deprived of their right to join a union and collectively bargain for higher wages.

These workers live in squalor in the Palar slum area. Their workplace, located a couple of kilometres away, is one of the ritziest condominiums in the country and home to Filipino capitalists, politicians, diplomats and celebrities. These two contrasting communities are both located in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a glamorous business district, comparable to Singapore’s island of Sentosa.

The Pacific Plaza workers are plumbers, electricians, mechanics and maintenance workers, who toil each day to ensure the comforts of elite homeowners, for a measly US$15 a day.

A year after their strike began, Pacific Plaza’s new management, which replaced the union busters, has still failed to reinstate and regularise these workers.

In a statement, PUNYAL said they will continue the fight “to the very end”.

The strike was among the first that occurred under the Rodrigo Duterte government, and two years after he promised to end contractual labour.

Numerous strikes have been waged since Duterte’s election, in various industries. A significant number resulted in victory, however some ended in bloodshed, due to state and capitalist repression.

Aside from contractual jobs, extreme poverty still persists according to recent government data, with one in five Filipinos earning only US$280 dollars a month.

Inflation also reached a 9-year high of 6.8% in September last year, the result of Duterte’s tax reforms imposing high excise taxes on oil products.

Poor communities are vulnerable to extrajudicial killings and state-sponsored violence. The Philippines is among the ten worst countries for working people due to union busting, contractual work and violent repression, according to the 2018 ITUC Global Rights Index.

Furthermore, The Philippines was named the deadliest country for environmental defenders last year. More than 78 activists were killed from 2017–2018, according to a Global Witness study.

In the last week of July, 15 activists were killed on the island of Negros. To make things worse, Duterte hinted at a declaration of martial law on the island, to supress Maoist insurgents, who he blamed for the killings.

Meanwhile, 17 Filipino billionaires from 12 families own a total of US$47.3 billion in wealth in 2019, more than two-thirds of the entire Philippine budget for the year.

The top Filipino billionaire is former Senate President Manny Villar, a real estate developer. He is the husband of Senator Cynthia Villar, the top vote winner of the recent midterm election, and father of Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

The Villar family was involved in an attempted land grab of the Sitio Malipay urban poor community in Cavite province last June, which resulted in 5 residents being injured and a security guard’s death.

They have converted the surrounding areas of the community into upscale residential and business complexes.

The Villars also own units in Pacific Plaza Towers.

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