CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 November 2018

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Workers strike against labour-hostile policies

MANILA (UCAN/Agencies): Church groups and university students in Manila, the Philippines, launched campaigns in the third week of June in support of at least half a dozen labour strikes around the Philippine capital.
 
The Council of the Laity of the Philippines has issued a call of support for the striking workers of a US$360-million ($2.8 billion) food conglomerate.
 
In a statement, the Council of the Laity said it is supporting the initiative of the Church People-Workers Solidarity group’s call for ecumenical prayers and solidarity missions on picket lines.
 
The groups also urged people to visit striking workers and their families and bring food, medicine, and other basic needs.
 
The appeal has been viewed by many as a signal of growing disenchantment with the economic policies of the president, Rodrigo Duterte.
 
At the heart of the unrest is Duterte’s campaign pledge to put an end to so-called labour-only contracting, which has been blamed for the lack of employment tenure among many workers.
 
Labour-only contracting is the practice of using agents or manpower agencies to recruit casual workers on behalf of a bigger business, so they can circumvent labour rules and avoid hiring regular employees, consequently making it easier to sack people. 
 
Priests, nuns and seminarians signed up to join a caravan on the weekend of June 23 to 24, headed to a strike at a factory owned by food company, NutriAsia in Bulacan province, less than a hundred kilometres south of Manila.
 
A Rappler.com report on June 21, recounted the plight of one worker at NutriAsia earning a meagre 380 pesos ($55) a day in addition to having to pay for his own uniform and protective gear, compelling him and others to work more than 12-hours a day just to make ends meet.
 
Students groups and urban poor organisations have also reinforced striking workers following a June 14 police dispersal that injured more than a dozen activists and landed 23 others in jail.
 
Protests have also broken out in factories of a multinational soft drinks firm, a global brand of biscuits and sweetbreads, the country’s top telecommunications company, a manufacturer of canned sardines and a fast-food chain.
 
Discontent has also spread to the public sector with government workers also set to launch a campaign against labour contractual schemes that deprive more than half a million of them of job security and benefits.
 
In Manila’s urban poor communities and activists are busy organising youth groups, defying Duterte’s order to arrest street loiterers—known as tambayan.
 
Despite the repeal of a law against vagrancy, police arrested more than 5,000 people in mid-June, dragging them off to already overcrowded jails.
 
Those who tried to protest were threatened with bodily harm.
 
At least one arrested person, Genesis Argoncillo, who was 22-years-old, died after suffering what doctors described as “multiple blunt force trauma to the neck, head, chest, and upper extremities.”
 
Police, claimed he was mentally disturbed and that the wounds were self-inflicted.
 
Argoncillo’s family disputed the claim. 
 
Police have since changed their story, saying he died of “the effects of congestion” in the police detention centre.
 
Despite the outcry, police said they would continue arresting street loiterers in Manila, which has more than half a million informal settler families, or about three million people living in congested communities, sometimes in multi-family shanties with little ventilation.
 
The sight of entire families huddled on stoops and sidewalks for air is a familiar sight in the city.
 
Duterte snapped back at human rights groups who criticised his order. “Do not tell me what to do,” he said, insisting that the police would continue to crack down on loiterers.

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