Strike Ban Not the Solution to Unemployment

Last Monday (April 21), the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCI) called for a strike moratorium saying a no-strike environment would result in a favorable business environment in the country. It wouldencourage businesses to invest in new ventures or expand, and therefore create more jobs. A few days later, this proposal was subsequently supported by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).

FFCCCI president Robin Sy said FFCCCI members had promised to generate 3 million jobs in the manufacturing and services sector in the next two years if government would ban strikes for at least 10 years. FFCCCI also proposed stretching contractual work from 6 months to 2 years and hiring workers at an apprentice rate (which is below the minimum wage).

While we are aware that this proposal will not fly – the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had stated that it is unsound and constitutes a violation of the constitution – we are infuriated that the business sector represented by Mr. Sy thinks that labor unions are causing unemployment. We are also insulted that Mr. Sy proposed a strike ban at a time when the Philippine labor movement is about to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Labor Day celebration in the country. On May 1, it will be 100 years since Filipino workers marched from Tondo to Malacañang under Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas to press for workers’ rights.

The workers’ right to strike is not the cause of unemployment in the country. It is a fact that strike incidence have declined in the past 10 years while unemployment has been rising.

The real problem is not labor unrest. The real problem is that the economic reforms implemented by government in order to create an outward-looking, market-oriented economic setting have failed to deliver.

When liberalization went into high gear in 1991, work opportunities have not increased significantly. Even when the economic growth rate breached the 5% mark in 1994 to 1995, there was still no significant increase in job opportunities. Last year, the country’s economy posted a respectable growth (GDP grew by 4.6% and the GNP by 5.2%) but unemployment rose to 10.2% Mr. Sy and his associates should instead ask the government: Where are the gains form neoliberal reforms? Why is the country experiencing jobless growth?

Mr. Sy and his associates should not use labor activism as scapegoat for the negative impacts of trade and financial liberalization. The worsening peace and order situation in the country, poor infrastructure and corruption are some of the urgent issues they should be concerned about.

Mr. Sy and his organization has no basis to say that they can create 3 million jobs in the next two years under a no-strike environment. It sounded like the promises made by President Macapagal-Arroyo year ago when, as a senator, she was selling the benefits of joining GATT-WTO. And we all know what happened to her promises. Nothing!

And what kind of jobs are they promising? Contractual labor stretched to two years with workers being paid below minimum wage! In other words, they no longer want to exploit workers for three to six months, as many employers currently do. This time they want to do so for two years.

Year Strikes Unemployment Rates (%)

1992 136 8.6

1993 122 8.9

1994 93 8.4

1995 94 7.4

1996 89 7.4

1997 93 7.9

1998 92 9.6

1999 58 9.4

2000 60 10.1

2001 43 9.8

2002 31 10.2

Sources: DOLE and NSO

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