Aguilar: On local governance

Against the Current

I WAS sharing breakfast with some 20 plus construction workers this morning at a cafeteria in our compound condo neighborhood. It was an unusual sight because it was on a working hour and laborers usually flock the food joint only during snacks and lunch breaks.

While eating I could not help but hear their conversations since we were literally sharing a long table. So I asked the guy next to me what the commotion was all about. Apparently they were all laid off and were only notified that very morning, in the middle of the week, and just a few days before Christmas at that. Harsh.

The tension was very high. They were all grappling with the idea that they are all suddenly unemployed. I was even hearing plots to pick fights against those who were not laid off blaming them as the cause. I’m sure they were just rants of desperation from what I would assume as breadwinners who would be going home earlier than usual and empty handed.

I am sure the company has its reasons for the mass layoff and legally has the right to do so. I had my shares of making unpopular calls too while I was senior executive of few LGUs. I should understand where the company is coming from in this case. But this morning I saw a different sense of injustice. You see, cutting costs in a firm do not come as a surprise. These are anticipated and planned. People are given time to look for their next job or to at least prepare themselves before they get laid off. That was not the case this morning.

The sad part of such reality is that they have no other choice but to accept it. As job orders they are not protected with tenureship. No office to run to for help, no way of bargaining. The decision was final. It was just that - suck it up and go home.

I could just imagine how many workers in our city get to face this uncertainty everyday and just how many families have to put up with little to no food on the table in times when their breadwinner unexpectedly gets laid off. It is even very hard for someone like me with a post graduate degree and who sets aside resources for rainy days to be in between jobs (in my case it was even I who decided to quit all my former jobs), how much more for minimum wage earners who feeds a family.

This is precisely what local governance should be built on; for the people, by the people, and of the people. While they are so busy preparing for their annual investment plans as well as their budget for their programs, projects and activities mostly on infrastructures, they miss out on the more important things in governance; the people.

While local legislators are busy crafting ordinances on streetlights, budget for heavy equipment, and capital outlay to be funded, they should be looking into creating units that can address and respond to the real needs of our workers on a daily basis.

On this specific issue, legislators should be busy looking into the programs, projects and activities of the public employment office if their programs are really responsive to these kinds of problems. And perhaps craft ordinances that will protect workers from this obviously harsh predicament. They can even create a department with enough funding to be a go between, to bargain for and in behalf of the workers, or to damper the economic impact of these realities to the vulnerable families.

With the right laws in place, the local executive for their part can and should run after firms that have these inhuman practices, not cover their labor crimes just to get their financial support during elections. It is good that we spend so much on peace and order to secure our city, but hunger and uncertainty of work is as evil as terrorism.

Some 20 families will sleep hungry tonight. Our local governments both the province and the city have all the powers to cushion such adversity. The question is, will they use it?


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