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Who you should thank this coming Labor Day

by Gaby Agbulos

ON May 1st, the Philippines will celebrate Labor Day, otherwise known as “Araw ng Paggawa.” 

Why is it called as such? Because it’s a day in which people celebrate Filipino workers’ hard work, whether they live in the Philippines or outside of it.

This happened after a bill was passed on April 8, 1908, wherein May 1 was finally recognized as Labor Day. It was also declared to be a national holiday. 

It was first celebrated on May 1, 1903, when the first-ever labor organization, Union Obrera Democratica de Filipina (UODF,) fought for fair wages, as well as for better working conditions, due to the abuse and exploitation they faced under American rule. 

One of the founders of the organization, Herminigildo Cruz, would later organize the Congreso Obrero de Filipinas, a party that would continue with this fight. Aside from better working conditions, they also advocated for eight-hour working days, equal labor standards for women, employer liability toward employees, as well as an end to child labor. 

Time and time again, Filipinos have shown that they always persevere through adversity. Whether it be going through a rough period in the economy, fighting for their rights, or even just going to work, all of that is celebrated on this day.

This is a good time to remember the importance of every profession in the Philippines; every day, everyone’s working in their own ways to make the world a better place. 

For many, though, every day they work is also a struggle to survive.

Contractualization in the Philippines

To many, Labor Day is a holiday like any other. It gives you some time off of work or school, allowing you to take a load off for a few hours.

It’s important, however, not to forget who this day is for. Even though it’s a holiday, many people do not have the option to stay at home. Jeepney drivers, office workers, service crew, and the like – many cannot afford such a liberty as staying home and doing nothing. 

Without these people who work so hard every day, the world would stop turning, and many would be at a loss for what to do. They help you in every way, and it’s important that even with the smallest actions, you’re able to help them, too.

Remember: Aside from celebrating Filipino achievements, this is a day dedicated to advocating for better working conditions and fair treatment, as well. 

Contractualization in the Philippines is something many companies do to be able to freely exploit their employees. This is done when employees hire workers on contracts that are only a few months long as a way of avoiding making them permanent employee. 

Being a contractual employee essentially means having zero benefits, as well as nothing protecting or safeguarding you from, say, your company firing you for no reason. 

In 2016, it was found that there were about 1.2 to 20 million contractual workers in the Philippines. One of them, 49-year-old Xavier Buncan, served for six years under the Policy and Planning Service Department of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC.)

In a flash, he and five other colleagues were quickly demoted, all without due process. He states when you’re contractual, you’re essentially nothing. 

Aside from this, there’s also the issue of unjust pay in the Philippines. At present, for example, the minimum wage in Metro Manila ranges from PHP 573 up to PHP 610. Now think of how much you spend each day on food, transportation, rent, and utilities, and remember that that amount is just for you.

Now imagine the people who have to stretch that amount to fit a family of four or five or however many else. It’s appalling to even try to convince anyone that a minimum wage is the same as a livable one. 

That doesn’t even account for a number of other problems in the system. Power politics in the office, abuse, and mistreatment from customers; every day, thousands and thousands of Filipino workers are suffering. 

This is why now, more than ever, it’s important to be educated on matters such as these. It isn’t enough to say that you don’t know enough to comment about it, or that it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t affect you, because it does. 

In one way or another, it does. 

An example of this would be the recent string of transport strikes as per the upcoming deadline for the consolidation of jeepney franchises this April 30. 

Instead of looking away, why not speak to your jeepney driver on your daily commute, or even join them out on the streets as they fight to save their livelihoods?

Take this coming holiday not just as an opportunity to rest, but to speak with the workers around you about their struggles. Find out what they’re going through, put yourself in their shoes, and figure out how you can help with the cause. 

Literally anything you do, no matter how big or small, is already a step in the right direction.



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