P-Noy’s threat vs PALEA a boost for Lucio Tan’s ‘sabotage’ of workers’ rights

WHILE in the safety and comfort of his Japanese junket, and away from the wrath of a powerful tropical storm, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III ordered government lawyers to look into the option of slapping lawsuits, including “economic sabotage” – aside from “illegal strike,” other administrative and criminal cases that management wants to file – against members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) who staged a sit-in strike last Tuesday at the height of typhoon “Pedring.”


Aquino’s impulsive reaction has further revealed the shallowness and hypocrisy of his “you’re my boss” rhetoric. It is becoming apparent that his true bosing are his fellow few and mighty elites, including billionaire Lucio Tan, the shrewd PAL owner, and not P-Noy’s much ballyhooed amo, the vast majority masa. It has become a pure and simple electoral slogan or gimmickry and a catchword routinely used in his speeches like in the yearly SONA or State of the Nation Address. It is a phrase that has become worn out, and which the people are getting sick and tired of hearing.


The unfortunate incident on Sept. 27 – where about 14,000 passengers were stranded when 172 domestic and international PAL flights were cancelled when the PAL ground crew refused to work while at their respective posts in NAIA Terminal 2 – could have been avoided if the PAL management, led by Tan, who is also PAL’s chair and CEO, and his company president, Jaime Bautista, had only engaged the union in a truly honest and give and take dialogue. This kind of talk and negotiation should have been done by the company even after last year’s infamous DOLE or Lagman-Baldoz ruling that declared the planned extensive outsourcing in PAL as “just and legitimate” management prerogative, as well as its upholding by Aquino last August after doing a Pontius Pilate for several months.


On second thought, PAL management may be after all incapable of humility and magnanimity even amid its “legal” victory. Remember that Lucio Tan, since buying PAL in 1992, is hell-bent on destroying the union and imposing wide-ranging contractualization – two prerequisites to ensure greater profits. What he is doing today is almost similar to what he did 13 years ago. In 1998, using as excuse the Asian financial crisis, PAL terminated over 1,500 pilots and flight crews; but later rehired many of them but at entry level wages and benefits, loss of seniority, and a promise from the pilots not to organize a union. In the same year, through coercive and co-optation tactics, PAL forced the PALEA ground crew union to accept a 10-year CBA moratorium which was extended for two more years (1998-2010).


The current plan to outsource or contract out three so-called “non-core” units of PAL – airport services, in-flight catering and call center reservations – was dubiously floated by management when the CBA moratorium was about to end. Remember no CBA means no higher wages and benefits; and more importantly, no union means no CBA, no effective instrument to defend and promote labor and trade union rights. Related to this, contractual workers mean having lower wages and benefits, banned from joining unions and without security of tenure.


So here’s the rub. Of the more than 2,600 workers to be affected by the sweeping outsourcing program of Lucio Tan that would start this October: at least 70 percent are union members and 62 percent belong to the union leadership, from top officials to shop stewards. A number of them may be employed by the so-called third-party service providers (Sky Logistics, Sky Kitchen and SPi Global Holdings), repeating the dilemma of those who endured the 1998 mass retrenchments and “re-employment.”


Lucio Tan’s outsourcing is nothing but a union-busting ploy and a guarantee of bigger and easier profits for him and his cohorts. His outsourcing is just another name for the systematic and widespread labor contractualization that creates a huge army of cheaper, powerless and squabbling non-regular and non-unionized workers. And his wicked designs are further emboldened by Noynoy Aquino’s publicized warning that those who joined the so-called “wildcat strike” by PALEA deserved to be punished. But the workers did not “sabotage” the national economy and PAL; it is Lucio Tan who sabotaged and continues to sabotage the just and legitimate rights of the workers to organize, to collectively bargain, to hold peaceful concerted actions, and to security of tenure.


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