AS IT congratulates the Philippine Airlines union for forging a “generally favorable” settlement with the new management which ended a two-year lockout, the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa stressed that key to this “initial victory” are the PAL workers’ tenacity to fight even a seemingly losing battle, the solidarity extended to them by the labor movement here and abroad, and their continuing vigilance against contractualization.
Flag carrier PAL and the Philippine Airlines Employees Association signed an agreement last Nov. 14 for the re-employment as regular workers of about 600 members of PALEA who were affected by a lockout and job outsourcing imposed by PAL at the height of a typhoon on Sept. 27, 2011.
The then PAL management, which was completely controlled by tycoon Lucio Tan, closed and outsourced the firm’s airport or ground handling services, in-flight catering and call center reservations ostensibly as “cost-cutting measures.”
But PALEA and other trade unions branded the move as arbitrary and deceitful as it coincided with the end of the 10-year moratorium on collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between PALEA and PAL.
“What Lucio Tan and his sycophants did was an attempt to perpetuate a no-CBA and eventually a no-union company since outsourcing will systematize contractualization and the substantial reduction of regular workers – the source of union members,” SENTRO explained.
Although the workers to be readmitted “will have to meet qualifications and hiring requirements for available job openings,” the current PAL-PALEA deal is much better than the one crafted by Tan’s group and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), which was in turn endorsed by President Aquino.
PALEA’s cause elicited wide support from various Philippine trade unions and other mass organizations, led by the Nagkaisa labor coalition, which includes SENTRO and the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), inspiring them to adopt the call “Ang laban ng PALEA ay laban ng lahat” or “PALEA’s struggle is our struggle” as it was a common fight for decent, secure and regular jobs.
The international trade union movement, especially the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), also closely monitored and backed the PALEA case.
“This is a victory versus atrocious outsourcing plans cooked up by Lucio Tan and all unscrupulous employers, particularly Big Business, which are unfortunately supported by the government,” Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, said.
Nagkaisa added that “this is not just a victory for PALEA … but to all Filipinos who continue to struggle for decent work … and an inspiration in pushing further the enactment of the security of tenure bill, reforms in wage fixing mechanisms, and other agenda that promote the interest and welfare of Filipino workers.”
SENTRO, however, warned that “while we have won the battle, we have yet to win the war against precarious work,” adding that PALEA and Nagkaisa should remain vigilant and be ready to confront PAL again if it reneges on its commitments in the agreement.
Aside from the re-employment provision, the PALEA-PAL agreement include bigger financial package (P150,000 gratuity pay for each union member) and optional separation pay of 200 percent per year of service, among others.
Gerry Rivera, PALEA president, said that the re-employment applications would be processed within three months.
The diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp. bought in April 2012 a 49-percent stake, amounting to $500 million, in Lucio Tan-dominated PAL Holdings Inc., which controls the airline. Part of the transaction was handing over to SMC the management of PAL, which is now run by Ramon Ang, SMC’s president and COO (chief operating officer).
Last June, Tan was reported to be negotiating with SMC to unload or sell his remaining 51 percent share in PAL, which would give Ang and SMC complete control of the country’s largest airline.
PAL is undergoing an ambitious refleeting program by buying new aircrafts and has embarked on an aggressive route network expansion, including in Europe.