Workers call on governments to Defend Public Services and Reject RCEP

We are trade union and civil society representatives from seven Asian countries who came together to discuss the impacts on labour rights and essential public services of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between 16 Asian nations. After two days of deliberations and reviewing the exciting experiences and the analysis available, we concluded that several proposals on the table of this far reaching economic deal have the potential to negatively impact decent work, labour rights, access to essential services such as water, electricity and healthcare, and add new challenges to the provision of quality public services in the region.

As the RCEP Ministerial will be held today 10 September in Manila, we publish the following statement of our position regarding these negotiations.

We are deeply concerned with the secrecy and lack of democratic process around these talks. Despite four years of negotiations texts have not been shared with elected representatives, and not been tabled for discussion in our respective tripartite mechanisms, let alone shared in the public domain for wide and informed consultation. While we acknowledge the ‘official stakeholder’ events that have taken place in the last three rounds of negotiations (Jakarta, Manila and Hyderabad) and in Manila a few days ago, these are far too limited as long as the text under discussion is kept secret.

We reject the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism proposed as part of this deal. ISDS is a flawed framework in which only one party – the investor – has the right to raise claims against another – the State. There is no justification for such a biased adjudication system in which States can never win, as even when they do not lose they bear the cost of litigation. The Philippines had to pay US$ 58 million in legal expenses despite the German transport company Fraport losing the case against the former. These arbitration tribunals only recognises rights, but no obligations for investors, and privilege the terms of trade and economic deals above our countries’ Constitution.

Further, the threat of challenge under this powerful international arbitration system impinges on the sovereignty of nations to formulate national laws and policies. We are particularly worried of the possibility that foreign investors challenge the outcomes of collective bargaining processes within countries, as we have seen in Egypt. The French company Veolia challenged the increase in national minimum wage brought about in Egypt by trade union demands in the wake of the Arab spring. Veolia demanded that the minimum wage increase be revised or that the company be compensated by the State for so called ‘loss in expected profits’. That a company feels emboldened enough to make such a claim speaks of the abusive use of this system that is currently taking place behind closed doors.

The current trade regime has already led to an intensification of precarious work and contractualisation of employment in the region. Permanent contracts, a key component of decent work as defined by the ILO is seen by business as a rigidity in employment regulations that needs to be done away with. RCEP’s provision of drastic cuts in import duties will increase the competition among manufacturing companies within the region. Experience tells us that most often the response from management is to resort to exploiting loopholes in labour laws or the lack of implementation of labour laws, to cut costs. This not only impacts the livelihoods of workers but also unionisation as precarious workers are less likely to join trade unions. This is a concern for our societies as a whole as it has been shown that lower unionisation leads to more income inequality within a society.

The provision of quality public services is also at risk. On the one hand government revenues are affected, and on the other, the cost of public services provision, especially for healthcare, stands to increase substantially. According to UNCTAD, import duties are key sources of government revenues for developing countries. In the region, this can be as high as around 17% of central government revenues in India. Drastic cuts in import duties will have a negative impact on the ability of the government to adequately finance services such as healthcare, water and sanitation, and education. In addition, the compensation claims from international arbitration are exorbitant and this comes from tax payer’s money. Indonesia had to pay US$ 337 million to Cemex in compensation. According to a leaked text, RCEP also demands decreased licensing fees, which are essential revenues for municipalities.

The cost of the provisions of essential services has to be balanced between infrastructure, human resources and cost of inputs. If there is a substantial increase in any of the three, the availability of resources for the other will be affected. For instance, medicines are essential inputs in the provision of healthcare that account for a substantial part of government’s health budgets. Provisions proposed under the Intellectual property rights text of RCEP would strengthen the monopoly of patent holders. Studies have shown that such changes would lead to higher costs of medicines (Kajal to add data).

Further, in the name of ensuring market access and equal treatment to foreign players, RCEP promotes the commodification of public goods, such as health, water and energy. These are services that are best provided by the public sector, require social accountability and have to be provided in the public’s interest. The private sector and the market are neither equipped, nor adequate to their provision and can at best play a subservient role under tight government regulation and guidance. Not only does RCEP promote the role of private players in the provision of these essential services, provisions in the services and investment chapters of RCEP stand to affect the ability of the government to regulate private providers. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster in which the worse affected will be the poor, women and marginalised communities across the region.

Finally, as shown in a recent report called “Reclaiming Public Services –how cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, the failure of privatisation experiments, especially but not limited to the energy and the water sector, have led to a wave of cases where cities and municipalities have brought back privatised entities into public hands. The report identifies more than 800 cases in 41 countries over the past 17 years. Provisions proposed under RCEP, such as Standstill, Ratchet and MFN-Forward, would entrench privatisation and pose a threat to the option to remunicipalise services.

Based on the above concerns, we demand that the RCEP negotiations be halted until the text is made public and discussed in parliament and in tripartite bodies in our respective countries. We reaffirm and support the call of ASEAN Parliamentarians for a thorough cost-benefit assessment of RCEP as well as a human rights impact assessment.

We demand that submissions from the trade union movement and other people’s organisations, based on a careful examination of the proposition on the table be taken as part of the negotiation process.

ASEAN governments have asserted the centrality of ASEAN in this process. We demand then that the guiding principles of ASEAN be at the core of the considerations of economic deals in the region. This implies that differences in development need to be given due recognition and form the base of expectations from different countries within and outside ASEAN. The notion of ASEAN centrality should also mean giving primacy to peoples rights and needs in these negotiations. Human rights such as the right to water, right to health, right to life and right to development come before economic expectations of investors. To ensure this, the trade union movement and other people’s organisations must have meaningful participation in the negotiations.

Until these demands are fulfilled, we reject the RCEP negotiation process and the outcome of it as a flawed and undemocratic process that does not stand to benefit workers, communities, and social development in our region.

 

Statement issued by:

NAGKAISA, PSI, Focus on the Global South and Transnational Institute

Statement on the Murder of Children

The period of August 28 to September 7, spanning close to two weeks, will be marked in infamy for the ghastly corpses of young boys:

1. Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, from Cainta, Rizal, former student of the University of the Philippines, found dead last August 28, Monday: with bruises, marks of torture and five gunshot wounds; and,
2. Reynaldo de Guzman, 14, also from Cainta, Rizal, Grade 5 student of Maybunga Elementary School, found dead last September 6, Wednesday: head covered in packaging tape, lacerated with 31 stab wounds all over the body.

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), together with their grieving families and the now-perpetually outraged Filipino people, express purest condemnation for yet more innocent blood shed in sacrifice for the diabolical War on Drugs, waged by the equally anti-poor regime of Rodrigo Duterte. In the same way we have raged against the murder of 17-year old Kian delos Santos last August 16, we continue to repeat and intone our condemnation. This is a policy and regime that has begun to show its true colors: not to protect us from the imagined phantom of the drug trade, but to keep the Filipino cowering, head bowed and catatonic from all the slaughter, lies and propaganda.

Like a cult of blood, this regime, its supporters and apologists have continued to condone the racking-up casualty now amounting close to 13,000 and above. It is but no exaggeration to argue that at this point, the Duterte regime has sunk to new lows in pursuing its bull-headed, futile and inhumane program—and not even the crocodile tears of Duterte (nor his hatchet-man Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa) will ever cleanse it against popular indignation.

Our current nightmarish circumstances are heart-rending and blood-boiling. Yet it is also a source of hope and determination that the Filipino youth, now standing with clearer eyes and voices than many of their peers and elders, speak up without mincing words about what is happening. Children are being butchered. Homes are being wrecked and torn apart. Their futures have been burnt into ash—and many more shall be cast into the gaping maw of a blood-thirsty state in the make.

Nothing now guarantees our safety—not our homes, not our communities, not our local leaders, and not even toeing the political line of this regime. Nothing is guaranteed under a regime which spits at the face of reason and the rule of law!.

We of the working peoples invite you, our countrymen: whoever, wherever and whatever their thoughts and beliefs may be, to join hands in prayer, reflection and mourning. We invite each other to ask the hardest of questions—of what truly needs to be done to bend and break this regiment of death unleashed by Malacañang and the Philippine National Police. We invite all to join each and any form of protest and action, and wear black ribbons to express our anger, despair and grim desire to end this once and for all.

The line shall be drawn here and now. This far, no further. Soon, the joy, impunity and false glories of the guilty will turn to ashes. Their debt in blood shall be paid in justice, for us, our children, and those who will come after.

We assert: Justice for Carl and Reynaldo!
We insist: Stop the Killings! End this now!

No to Compressed Workweek Law!

Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO ) representing more than 80,000 persons in the private, public and informal sectors, including migrant workers, women, and the youth, reject the current proposals to abolish the workers’ right to overtime pay for workdays of more than eight (8) hours.

Specifically, under the pretense of promoting “business competitiveness, work efficiency and labor productivity,” House Bill No. 6152 of Cong. Mark Go would allow work of more than eight (8) hours a day without the payment of the corresponding overtime pay. This then removes a cornerstone of workers’ protection meant to defend against exploitation and oppression. From Chicago’s Haymarket Square Riot in 1886, to the world’s recognition of May 1 as Labor Day, to the Philippines’ enactment of Commonwealth Act no. 444 in 1939 and subsequently of our own Labor Code, labor doctrine has developed that the working day shall not exceed eight (8) hours and, as important, work beyond eight (8) hours shall be paid an additional compensation equivalent to the worker’s regular wage plus at least twenty-five percent (25%). Presently, HB 6152 would remove this right to overtime pay.

 This right to overtime pay should not be abrogated or changed.

 Indeed, to protect the payment of overtime against abusive schemes, Article 88 of the Labor Code expressly prohibits offsetting, providing that “(u)ndertime work on any particular day shall not be offset by overtime work on any other day. Permission given to the employee to go on leave on some other day of the week shall not exempt the employer (from payment of overtime pay).” Article 88 is the same provision which casts doubt on the validity of any work arrangement, be it known as “compressed workweek” or any other name, which deprives workers their right to overtime pay. But now, Cong. Go’s HB 6152 would erase this long standing principle in Article 88 against offsetting and wrongly equates the value of the hours in the “additional day off” with the hours of work rendered beyond eight (8) hours.

The prohibition against offsetting should not be abrogated or changed.

 Even the alleged “voluntariness” of the scheme under HB 6152 does little to save it from its principal flaw of depriving workers their right to overtime pay. On the contrary, this only exposes a threatening precedent. For it is a fundamental principle that labor standards such as rules on overtime cannot be diminished by agreement nor waived. And yet, HB 6152 allows parties to agree on terms lower than that set by law, and in so doing, threatens the very concept of labor standards itself. After HB 6152 is rid of overtime, what other statutory benefit may the employer force the employee to waive or reduce?

As Cong. Go’s HB 6152 abolishes the workers’ right to overtime pay for workdays of more than eight (8) hours, SENTRO rejects it as well as all other legislative proposals which take away the worker’s right to be paid overtime pay for work rendered past the eighth hour. Any proposal to promote business competitiveness, work efficiency and labor productivity should not sacrifice the workers’ right to overtime pay. Compressing the workweek or allowing for flexible work arrangements should observe the following tenets:

Work rendered beyond eight (8) hours must be paid overtime pay. The right to overtime pay should be protected and preserved. The prohibition against offsetting should not be abrogated or changed.

 

 SENTRO Executive Committee

30 August 2017

Statement on the Extrajudicial Murder of Kian delos Santos

The APL Youth, together with the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), condemns, in the strongest and most outraged terms, the intensification of the war on the poor. We join the nation in mourning with rage the murder of 17-year old Kian delos Santos and all those considered as “collateral damage” Duterte’s calloused regime of death.

Kian was murdered in cold blood by the elements of the Philippine National Police in Caloocan City. The young delos Santos was allegedly claimed by PNP Caloocan to have engaged in a shootout with their forces–and yet CCTV footage, testimonies of the victim’s father and neighbors, as well as many other witnesses, have proven the brazen lie. His death is just one of the record-breaking 60 extrajudicial killings inflicted this week by police forces.

The PNP claims yet another innocent child in the gaping maw of its ravenous war on the poor. With his violent and unjust death, Kian delos Santos joins the ranks of Danica May Garcia (also shot to death last August 27, 2016, also in Caloocan), Althea Barbon (killed last September 1, 2016 in Guihilngan City, Negros Oriental, together with her father), and many other undocumented cases of children and families slaughtered by the PNP’s reign of terror.

The casualty count of this war on the poor is likely to go beyond five digits. While official tallies and media reports continue to assert a range of 5,000-8,000 deaths, unofficial and unreported cases point to figures nearing or exceeding 12,000. We have long surpassed the record figure of 3,257 deaths sponsored by the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos for the period of 1972-1986—and these for multiple crimes against humanity, human rights violations and politically-motivated violence.

We urge all those victimized by the war of the poor to speak truth to power like the family and friends of the young delos Santos. With them, we shall continue to shake and disturb the conscience of our people.

We call for an impartial and thoroughgoing investigation in the death of Kian delos Santos and others like him who were mudered by our security forces and their vigilante cohorts.

Once again, we call for the end to this senseless war on the poor and demand full accountability for all these crimes against humanity.

Together with the Filipino people,
The working people say: Justice for Kian delos Santos!
The working people insist: Stop the Killings!

 

The Bitter Truth About Sugar Tax!

“Tax on sugar sweetened beverages is both anti-worker and anti-poor. It is also the wrong solution to our health problems,” declared Alfredo Marañon, national president of the Federation and Cooperation of Cola, Beverage and Allied Industries (FCCU), during a picket in front of the Senate this morning. “Worst, it could do more harm than good to our overall economy,” he added.

Rather than impose excise taxes that could leave workers jobless, the FCCU said that it could be more effective for government to invest on long-term solutions such as education campaign and regulating advertising on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Citing a study carried out by the the University of Asia and the Pacific (UAP) in 2016, the FCCU warned that, if passed, the supposed gains of TRAIN could be offset by its negative impact. According to the UAP, the economic impact of the proposed P10 per liter tax on SSB revealed that it will lead to a PHP 63 billion economy-wide loss due to reduced government revenues, job losses and economic contraction.

It should be noted that the DOF expects to collect PHP 47 billion from excise taxes in SSB.

Tax on sugar sweetened beverages is patently anti-poor,” Marañon said. According to a survey conducted by the DOF itself, the implementation of House Bill 5636 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act could push the prices of sugar-sweetened beverages by two percent to as much as 140 percent.

“While the poor will have to pay an extra PHP 3 for every powdered drink sachet they take, the rich can continue to have their tax-free sugar fix in their expensive coffee shops,” he added.

Tax on sugar sweetened beverages is patently anti-worker,” Marañon reiterated. In its study, the UAP projects that at least 133,750 direct and indirect jobs will be affected. This would include sugar workers, coffee farmers and workers in the beverage manufacturing.

In a workers’ dialogue with the DOF held in Davao City yesterday, 2 major beverage companies announced that they may be forced to layoff thousands of workers. One company said it may have to shut down 9 plants. Another company announced it may have to impose a moratorium on their collective bargaining agreement.

The figure cited by the UAP study could be a low estimate. The Beverage Industry Association of the Philippines (BIAP) claims that “over 1.3 million micro-entrepreneurs operating carinderias and sari-sari stores all over the country” will also be affected. It is said that 40% of revenues of carinderias are derived from beverage sales.

“There are better ways to address the country’s health concerns,” Marañon said. Studies abroad shows that investing on massive public education campaign, regulating advertising on sugar-sweetened beverages, and even implementing simple solutions that could “nudge” consumers to reduce consumption – like promoting use of smaller containers – could be far more effective solutions than what President Duterte’s TRAIN wants.

The FCCU is a nation union of workers in the beverage industry. It is affiliated to the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF).