Church leaders in the Philippines paid tribute to workers for their “great service and dedication” as the country marked Labor Day on May 1.
The social action arm of the Catholic bishops’ conference noted that with the coronavirus pandemic millions of workers in the country have been displaced.
In a statement, the church body noted that this year’s observance of Labor Day has become “another frustrating commemoration for workers.”
Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines, said the pandemic has exposed the “unjust treatment of Filipino workers, and our inability to effectively come to their cause.”
The prelate said that in a span of one month, over two million workers have been displaced, with no assurance of getting back to work when the crisis is over.
He said that government efforts to provide relief packages to workers are “fill-gap measures only” and provide “no actual solutions to our labor problems.”
Bishop Bagaforo supported the call of labor groups for the implementation of “just policies and inclusive compensation packages,” especially for informal workers.
Labor unions have been calling for about US$200 of minimum pay every month for workers during the quarantine period.
They also called for provision of safety equipment, transportation, temporary shelter, meals and hazard pay for medical and other frontline workers.
Labor Day gift for workers
Philippine church leaders have earlier called on the government for more jobs and employment as “gift” to workers on Labor Day.
“The best gift is employment either by the government or private sector and business establishments,” said Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon.
He said the government should ask companies to restart employing workers if possible amid the pandemic.
The Department of Labor and Employment has earlier reported that more than two million workers have been displaced by the pandemic.
Most of those who lost their jobs are in the capital Manila.
Of the estimated two million workers who lost their jobs, at least 1.4 million were displaced due to the temporary closures of workplaces
At least 687,000 workers had reduced incomes under alternative work arrangements like less workdays, rotation, forced leave, and telecommuting.
In Metro Manila, the number of displaced workers is pegged at 687,634, followed by Central Luzon at 281,278, and Davao Region with 207,789.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, expressed hope that the government will give a cash allowance to those who lost their jobs.
“Many of them have yet to receive the promised aid,” said the prelate.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said workers need financial assistance to buy food, medicines, and other basic needs.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said the “real gift” to workers is respecting their rights and dignity, “something beyond what is required by law.”
“For so long we need to reclaim the rights and dignity of workers. We should uphold the primacy of labor over capital,” he said.
Prayers for the most affected
On the occasion of Labor Day, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines prayed for the country’s workers, especially those adversely affected by the pandemic.
The Protestant group noted that many workers who have been affected by the “no work-no pay” policy “have suffered from hunger and have to be dependent on relief goods.”
“It is always those who are at the bottom of the economic and social pyramid who suffer most,” read a statement from the church organization.
It is for this reason, the group said, that it is lifting the working class to God.
“We read in your Word about your son whom you have sent to bring good news to the poor; to set free those who are captives and oppressed,” read the group’s prayer.
“We read in your Word how you hate injustice upon those who labor and not given their just wage,” it added.
“Once more we lift up to you the working class. Once more we implore upon your mercy and compassion on them. Listen to their cries. See their plight,” read the prayer.
Online May Day protests
Labor Day protests in the Philippines pushed through on May 1 despite constraints due to the lockdown.
Groups of workers, observing “social distancing” measures, called for mass testing and treatment for those affected by the new coronavirus disease.
They also called for adequate relief and support for workers, quarantined communities, and others affected by the lockdown.
“We can’t emphasize enough the urgency of government to provide immediate relief to all workers,” said Elmer Labog, chairman of the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers, noted that it is the “first time in history” that the Labor Day protest will be online.
“Despite the [lockdown] we will make sure (President Rodrigo) Duterte hears our battle cry,” he said.
The Institute of Occupational Health and Safety Development, meanwhile, called on the government to uphold workers’ health and safety during the pandemic.
The organization slammed the labor department’s alleged failure to provide “concrete and relevant occupational safety and health-related orders that will protect workers.”
“If the government wants workers to work amidst the pandemic, then it should protect workers from being infected,” said Nadia De Leon, executive director of the institute.