Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello's Privilege Speech on the PAL Labor Dispute delivered last October 3, 2011

Akbayan is one with the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association in their protest against Lucio Tan and Philippine Airlines Management’s reckless outsourcing plan that threatens the welfare of almost 3,000 workers and their families. We decry PAL management’s removal of duly qualified workers way ahead of their scheduled termination, in the process replacing them with scabs or workers unfit for the job. We condemn Lucio Tan’s greed and PAL’s decision to prioritized profit margins over the welfare of workers.

Dear colleagues, I urge you to look closer into the events that led to PALEA’s September 27 protest action to determine if it is the management or the union that should be called into account.

PAL decided to outsource 2600 jobs in an effort, they say, to maintain the company’s financial viability and avoid losses, and according to a notice PAL gave the Department of Labor and Employment, following conciliation facilitated by no less than the office of the President itself, the termination of the said jobs would be effective on the close of business hours of September 30, 2011.

PAL management began firing employees on September 19, allegedly so that their subcontractors could process the employment of these workers. And in the run up to September 27, PAL management allowed for contractors and scabs to take over ground activities, and all of these are duly recorded by PALEA members. And because the spinoff plan was not to be implemented until October 1, then these actions could very well be considered provocative on the part of management. Let me just give you  a few examples:

On September 23, at around 5 to 6 pm, the position of 15 check-in agents were taken by scabs.

On September 24, catering for the Philippine Airlines flight PR 426 to Fokouka, Japan was provided by outsourcing firm Macro-Asia.

On the same day, instead of having the ground crew handle the delivery and pick up of cargo, PAL had instead employed the services of Philippine Skylanders.

Dear colleagues, hindi pa po nagsisimula ang outsourcing plan ng PAL, ngunit unti-unti nang hindi pinapagtrabaho ang mga miyembro ng PALEA.

Finally, on September 27, PAL management illegally locked workers out of their jobs. Before lunch, workers entered their check-in codes into the system, which was supposed to grant them access to the operations of the airlines, only to find out that their respective codes had already been deactivated. At around 1 pm, people were being evicted from their work stations.

Clearly, dear colleagues, PAL acted on bad faith when it terminated employees as early as September 19 and locked out PALEA members on September 27. Clearly Lucio Tan has no respect for legally binding agreements, and clearly he has no respect for the rights of workers.

The workers took their last recourse and staged a peaceful protest, which is maintained up till today. And even as we speak dear colleagues, the police threaten to disperse them. At this point, the workers could only hope that this dispersal would not turn out to be as violent as the one the PNP and security group Centaur mounted on September 27.

Wala nang naiwan sa mga manggagawa ng PALEA maliban sa pinagsama-samang lakas ng kanilang mga tinig. Akbayan, with the force of the Philippine labor movement and civil society stand behind them, we continue to protest against Lucio Tan’s gross violation of their dignity and their rights.

Honorable colleagues, I also urge you to look into PAL’s justification for the spin off plan.

PAL alleged that they were suffering loses due to the unprecedented surge of fuel prices; the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgrading of the Philippines to Category II; the global recession of 2008; the European Union’s blacklisting of PAL; and the low-cost carriers. On December 2009, PAL holdings reported a total comprehensive loss for the nine months ended December 31, 2009 amounting to PHP1.9 billion, a decrease of 86% from the same period of the previous fiscal year of PHP13.8 billion.

However, by the time PAL had announced its plans for massive lay off in the second half of 2009, they had already the knowledge of the improvement of the company’s financial standing. In fact, it was reported in the company’s Quarterly report on June 30, 2009 that PAL’s operations contributed to a significant increase of 193% of PAL Holdings’ consolidated net income from operations, from a loss of PHP2.1 billion as of June 30,2008 to income of PHP2 billion in the current period. And this improvement was carried on to the following quarters.

Also, in March 2010, it was reported in the Business Mirror that PAL  “sees revenues rising from $1.08 billion to $1.5 billion between end-December to March this year,” which PAL confirmed with the Philippine Stock Exchange. Even the International Air Transport Association vouched for these projections.  Projections that would show PAL’s balance sheet improving.

Itanong natin kay Lucio Tan, Nasa’n na nga ang pagkaluging sinasabi ng PAL?

Dear colleagues, Akbayan also reiterates the position of the union in calling PAL to account for the fact that the contractors they decided to hire are in fact illegal companies doing labor-only subcontracting.

Maliban sa mga isyung ito, kailangang maintindihan nating hindi lang dalawang libo at anim na daang tao ang pinaguusapan natin. Alalahanin nating halos tatlong libong pamilyang Pilipinong nakaasa sa halos tatlong libong mga manggagawa ang maghihirap dahil sa desisyon ng PAL.

And it is precisely for all these reasons that PALEA took to the Court of Appeals to prevent the implementation of the outsourcing plan. And this is also why Akbayan joins PALEA in saying that unless all cases are resolved with finality, then PALEA workers should remain employed, and PAL be made to answer for all their transgressions. And indeed this has been the position that was taken by many organizations including the editorial of PDI that PAL should respect judicial outcome.

Dear colleagues I would like to turn your attention to the safety of the riding public that PAL compromises. Like most of us in this august chamber, I am a member of Mabuhay Miles, and when I say compromising the safety of the riding public, I also mean I fear for my own well-being as well as yours.

How can we trust an airline that leaves crucial work to operate their system to unqualified workers? We must note that after PAL management replaced duly qualified workers with scabs, one of the replacements damaged the door of an Airbus A340 with aircraft ID no. 3430 when he misused the airstep. This clearly reveals the grave danger that contractual labor relativlely ignorant of technical processes poses to the broader riding public. And while we should expect more of these mishaps as PAL “transitions” from duly qualified workers to scabs and unqualified contractors, we definitely should not allow it.

Finally, I would like to say that what we are seeing is not just a simple standoff between labor and management. What we are witnessing is a historic battle of the Philippine labor against contractualization. Dear colleagues, if PAL wins this battle then I can assure you that Lucio Tan’s style of contractualization and bankruptcy will plague the economy and so will labor troubles continue to emerge, al posing a problem for development

It is also because of this fear that I urge this august chamber to stand among the ranks of PALEA and the Philippine workers.

I congratulate House Committee on Labor Chairman, the Hon. Emil Ong for taking a stand with the workers, and I urge all of us to do the same. Likewise, I believe that President Aquino did the right thing in withdrawing the initial order for his legal team to investigate PALEA for economic sabotage. It is clear dear colleagues, and I am sure you would agree, it is not PALEA that is in the wrong here; it is Lucio Tan that must be made accountable for economic sabotage.

Let us investigate PAL management’s wanton violation of workers’ rights – evicting workers from their posts, and unduly terminating their employment is wrong, and they must be made accountable for that.

Second we must also investigate PAL’s practice of hiring unqualified workers to perform the tasks that require a certain level of technical knowledge and competency. This is especially crucial as it endangers the safety of passengers and of overall airline operations.

Finally, we must investigate the complicity of the PNP and the private security forces in the dispersal of workers and make them duly accountable for their transgressions.

Dear colleagues, when all our constituents are left with are their voices, then it is our duty as their representatives in Congress to act upon their woes.

Thank you.###