Pasabilis! October 2021 | No land, no relief, no job


by Pen del Pilar

For seven years, Ben had been employed as a contractual worker in a Chinese-owned milk processing company. From March 2020 until July 2021, amid the spread of Covid-19, Ben continued working, together with other workers in the company.

But on the second week of August, he was surprised when the company fired him from his job.

The company reasoned that Ben failed to submit a negative RT-PCR swab test result, which suddenly became a mandatory condition for his continued employment. He was given only four days to comply with the requirement that he had to pay for out of his own pocket.

“The swab test cost ₱4,000. I get paid ₱2,000 per week, sometimes the company even releases only half of it. I bring home practically loose change to my family, where will I ever get the money to pay for a swab test?” he said.

“On the fifth day since they demanded the test, I found myself already unemployed,” he said with regret.

Hardship during the pandemic

When the lockdown was imposed in March 2020, the company started to layoff its workers. Majority of the 400 workers who lost their jobs were contractual.

To Ben’s knowledge, none of them received any backpay or separation pay that are mandated by reactionary law.

To continue its operations, the company hired new contractual workers. “The company just didn’t want to regularize its workers. It’s clear that they used the pandemic as an alibi to fire us,” Ben said.

Worse, he added, his family did not receive even a centavo from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) under the much vaunted Bayanihan 1 and 2 of the Duterte regime. The reactionary government said it allotted around ₱665.7 billion for pandemic response, especially to provide relief to poor families like Ben’s. The budget included funds for the purchase of vaccines, hospitalization and aid to those severely affected by the pandemic “We were told it was coming, but it’s already been a year but we still haven’t received relief yet.”

According to the conservative data of the reactionary Department of Labor and Employment, Ben is one of the more than 15,000 workers in the region who lost their jobs by the end of 2020. But the number is exceptionally low when compared to the fact that around 10.5 million workers became unemployed nationwide during the pandemic between March 2020 to January 2021.

However, despite the pandemic and fascist restrictions imposed by the regime, agricultural workers around the region still struggled for their rights. In Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte, for instance, the workers of United Pantaron Banana Workers Union demanded an increase of ₱100 in the daily wage of all workers in the region.

While workers and agricultural workers like Ben received little to no relief during the pandemic, the Duterte regime provided ₱220 million subsidy for the operations of big banana companies.

In different parts of the region, capitalists scapegoated the pandemic to dismiss workers, pull down wages and benefits and exacerbate inhumane working conditions.

Like most agricultural workers, Ben came from the poor peasant class, who either did not own any land to till or owned very little but not enough to live by. He and hundred thousands more like him are forced to work in plantations, agricultural and agro-chemical companies around the region.

They have long suffered under the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system. But when the pandemic struck, their misery worsened because of the regime’s criminal negligence and continuing preferential treatment towards capitalists and the ruling class.

Pasabilis! October 2021 | No land, no relief, no job