CELEBRATING the International Youth Day (IYD) today, a few hundred youth members of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL-SENTRO) staged flashmobs and pickets in several key cities across the country to highlight the plight of the mostly youthful fast food workers and the need to reform the highly potential but anomaly-ridden Sangguniang Kabataan (SK).
In Quezon City, about 150 APL-Youth members held a lightning protest at noontime at the Activity Center in Trinoma Mall in North Edsa, site of numerous fast food chains, including a McDonald’s restaurant, in support of the global campaign for higher wages and rights of fast food workers.
They then proceeded to the House of Representatives in the Batasan Complex to air their support to House Bill No. 3000, which seeks to amend Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of the Philippines, specifically changing some of its provisions that would reform and strengthen the SK, the state-sanctioned grassroots youth council created by the LGC of 1991.
Joining the APL-Youth NCR (National Capital Region) chapter in these twin mass actions were their counterparts from Cavite province. APL-Youth also conducted flashmob-pickets at McDonald’s outlets in Lipa City (Batangas) bus station; Colon St., Cebu City; Ilustre St., Davao City; Magsaysay Park, Cagayan de Oro City; and Bgy. City Heights, General Santos City.
“McDonald’s is specifically targeted not only because it is the world’s largest fast food chain, it is also the pioneer – and remains the leader – in the rampant practice of granting low wages, scarce benefits and no security of tenure for most of its fast food workers, who are usually teenagers or young adults,” Marco Gojol, APL-Youth secretary general, said.
He added that “in fact, McDonald’s epitomizes the worst face of contractualization and anti-worker and anti-union policies in the fast food industry not only in the US but worldwide.”
As if receiving a cheap wage is not enough, workers also further fatten the McDonald’s pockets by serving for free for a certain period of time each day, which is called “charity work” or “turnover work” – in the Philippines, it ranges from no less than 30 minutes to as much as 2 hours, Melba Tampakan, APL-Youth chair, revealed.
McDonald’s is currently the object of widespread protests and lawsuits in the US, amid its vigorous rejection of the workers’ demand for $15 an hour pay and the right to unionize. But on July 29, the National Labor Relations Board finally ruled that McDonald’s could be named as a “joint employer” in several complaints of labor rights’ violations even at franchise-owned and -operated restaurants, which account for the vast majority of McDonald’s more than 14,000 joints in the US.
The NLRB ruling signifies that McDonald’s could no longer “hide behind its franchisees” and wash its hands of any liability for the long list of abusive acts against McDonald’s workers even those not directly employed by the corporation itself but by its franchisees or affiliate firms.
The labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) remarked that this unprecedented decision could also later be adapted to McDonald’s chains in other countries, including the Philippines.
The US-based McDonald’s is the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants – in 2012 it has already over 34,000 hamburger joints in 119 countries and territories employing 1.8 million workers who serve 68 million customers daily, which enable it to earn $27.6 billion in revenues and $5.5 billion in net income.
However, McDonald’s is notorious for hiring workers with low pays and few benefits and mostly remain contractual, as well as for its rabid resistance to trade unions, to ensure bigger profits – this prompted the coining of the term “McJob” to denote a “low-paying” or “low-quality” work.
McDonald’s franchises in the Philippines are run by the Golden Arches Development Corp., originally owned by businessman George Yang but now controlled by taipan Andrew Tan, the third richest Filipino this year according to Forbes, and whose group of companies includes the giant real estate firm Megaworld and Emperador Distillers, maker of the highly profitable Emperador brandy.
The APL-Youth said that aside from McDonald’s, its next “targets” are other foreign fast food chains such as Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC and many others, as well as local giants like Jollibee, which also follow anti-worker and anti-union practices.
For instance, Jollibee, the country’s top fast food restaurant, is also infamous for its low pays and routine use of “endo,” meaning “end-of-contract” workers who toil for short-term and precarious work arrangements or likewise called “5-5-5” scheme in which workers are endlessly hired and fired every five months to prevent them from becoming permanent or regular workers – who, by law, are entitled of higher wages and benefits, security of tenure, and can join a union.
Meanwhile, the APL-Youth admitted that while it is dismayed by the “degeneration” of many SK officers, from the barangay to national levels, into a “younger version” of opportunist and corrupt trapos or traditional politicians, the potentials of this mass-based organization could not be denied.
The APL-Youth agreed to HB 3000 declaration that the SK remains “a unique setup and provides possibilities for progressive interventions to advance meaningful youth participation, enhances access to education and youth employment, and democratizes delivery of social services for the youth sector.”
Thus, the bill explained, the SK’s abolition is not the solution to its becoming linked to “corruption, political disenfranchisement and patronage politics” since it “will contradict the entire essence of the devolution of the government, and will inhibit the Filipino youth’s vital role in nation-building.”
Among the bill’s list of reforms are the creation of an oversight body “to make SK officers accountable to their constituency in terms of clear processes in development planning, budgeting and disbursement of funds,” and a separate and functioning development council “with representation in the SK and mandated to draft the SK’s annual youth development plan.”
HB 3000 has been filed by the Akbayan party-list in the current 16th Congress, which is an updated version of its similar bill – HB 468 – during the 15th Congress.
The reforms are needed to be implemented before the next SK election, which will be determined by the Commission on Elections any day between Oct. 28 this year and Feb. 23, 2015, as stipulated in RA 10632 that postponed the Oct. 28, 2013 SK polls.