Only 4% of Southeastern Mindanao?s workers belong to unions

DOLE regional director Ma. Gloria A. Tango, in a press conference here in time for the labor department's 73rd anniversary, said there is industrial peace in the region with no “actual” strike in the last two years. She said, too, that labor-management relations have “matured,” adding that labor unions are using strike as the last recourse.

She added that the DOLE has improved its labor-management education program to improve industrial peace.

But Nelson Bautista, media relations officer of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), said low interest unionism is not a sign of mature relations between the management and the workers.

Tango herself seemed to be contradicting herself when she said that interest in unionism in the region is very low, which she attributed to employers’ practice of hiring only contractual workers and never granting them regular employment status.

This scheme is also widely criticized by labor groups. Bautista said that hiring contractuals is

just one of labor’s problems that prevent them from joining unions.

Tango said, however, that workers can still join unions even if they are just hired by a contractor.

She said the firm that hired the contractor may still be liable for labor law violations of the latter via "solidary liability".

But Tango said unionized workers have a better position to negotiate for wage increases and benefits in the work place.

She pointed out that the reason why a lot of workers are looking forward to a new wage order is because many of them do not belong to labor unions.

Bautista said workers who belong to labor unions avail of a "shield against exploitation" for job security, economic, and political rights in the workplace.

But those who evade unions could not be blamed too, he said. With the economic difficulty, he pointed out that workers cannot help but give in to pressure from management. Workers discovered to organize into unions or aspire to become members are dismissed, he added.

Bautista said that putting up a union is already a sign of unity among workers. But it is the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the unions that truly protect workers.

KMU questioned the government's disregard of strikes held by labor unions, by reducing them into pickets for issues that allegedly are not qualified for strikes.