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3. Women Workers: In Battle on many Fronts

Second Rate Workers on Account of Sex

In the early 1990s, the rank and file workforce in one of the five star hotels in Metro Manila was composed of 60% men and 40% women. After several years, the union noticed that male employment increased to as high as 70%. The management was able to do that by hiring males for the positions left by women. When the union confronted the management of this practice, they reasoned out non-stereotyping of jobs as the intent of the practice. The union did not know how to arrest this problem because hiring is a management prerogative.

In a tuna canning factory in General Santos City, there are 80% female labor force from a more or less 2,000 workers. Majority of them have 5-months contract. To continue employment, workers re-apply using different names after every contract is finished.

In 1993, 365 former workers of the Menzi Agricultural Corporation were named beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Report Program (CARP). They then constituted themselves into a cooperative that now owns and manages the plantation. Almost all of the CARP beneficiaries are male. By tradition, it has always been the men who got the regular jobs in the plantation. The women were usually seasonal workers contracted to pick coffee beans only three to six months a year. Under the CARP law, regular workers are the priority beneficiaries while seasonal farmworkers rank only third in the list of those qualified to benefit from the land reform, after agricultural lessees or share tenants and regular farmworkers.

Discriminations on women workers start in the pre-employment stage where job advertisements explicitly discourage women to apply for the position. Just by looking at the classified ads section of the newspapers, one can tell the stereotyping of jobs for men and women. The sexual division of labor at home extends to the paid work or productive sphere. Most jobs available to women are extension of their domestic roles such as caring/nurturing professions like being teachers, nurses, care for the elderly – making food and clothing, cleaning, budgeting – jobs which are usually undervalued. Furthermore, women are pitted against each other. Employers tend to get younger, single women as against a married one. Employers are hesitant about hiring women of child-bearing age.

Labor flexibilization takes heavy toll on women workers. Job security is a thing of the past as 5-month contracts (6-month employment means regular employment) are becoming more a rule than an exception. Reapplying under new names or waiting for a 6-month cycle before re-employment are some of the schemes use in female-dominated industries like in sales, textile and garments.

Filipino women do 60% of the work in the country but they receive 38 cents only for every P1.00 earned by a man. This simply illustrates the widespread job segregation which places women in low-skilled jobs and therefore low paying/low status with little or no opportunity for skills development and upward mobility. They rarely enter the technical professions, are under-represented at management levels, except maybe in those sectors traditionally composed of a female labor force.

Promotion and training is usually given to the male workers because they are the ones available to take on bigger responsibilities and shall stay longer in employment. Women have the possibility of leaving jobs after marriage or might refuse training because of the requirement attached to the promotion. It can happen that pro-

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motion or training will be open to both men and women but most often than not, marriage and pregnancy stifle their career advancement. Designs and policies for training programs assume that workers identified to be trained can pack their things fast without any "mental or emotional baggage" like responsibilities at home. And these are men.

The result is evident in the public sector where 53.58% of the workforce in 1996 are women. Majority of them are found in the National Government as regular employees in the career service, occupied second level positions (professional, technical and scientific positions) and were teachers. While women are dominant in the second level positions, males constitute 63.48% of the supervisory and managerial position.

While Filipino workers, both women and men generally suffer from low wages and the continuing decline of their purchasing power, the regressive tax system in the country has been discriminating against women. A married man will automatically get the tax exemptions unless he waived his right in favor of the wife. Single-headed households, majority of which are female-headed households, pay higher taxes than two-income households.

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Going to Work is like Going to War

There are around 200 women workers and 70 men in a biscuit factory. There are 9 toilets available for women and 9 for men or 1 toilet for every 22 female while 1 toilet for every 12 men. Women workers cannot even use all the toilets because they are not clean and they are not in good condition. Workers are not provided with locker rooms so women have to change clothes in just every corner where nobody can see them.

Carmelita Alonzo, 35 years old, worked at a garments factory in the Cavite Export Processing Zone. She worked like all other workers 14 hours a day with forced overtime of 8 hours on Sundays. She died March 8, 1997 after 11 days at the hospital from cardio-respiratory arrest, pneumonia and pleural effusion. She was said to be in a healthy condition when the company hired her for a six-month contractual job. It seems that her health gradually weaken due to daily long hours of work and pressures to meet the daily quota required.

Lunch break in a tuna canning factory is 15 minutes only. A pass/permit is needed to use the toilet. It is given by a work leader who is not in the work area all the time. Women’s job position includes skinner (takes off the head and skin of the fish) and loiner (re-skinning; break the fish to get the main bone). They start doing the job even if fish temperature is at 120 F. They are not allowed to use gloves as plastic materials are bad for the fish.

The owner of a factory has a habit of touching women workers. At first, women just ignored him although they feel very uncomfortable. He even asked them for a date or to find him a "woman" in the factory.

During a strike, the policemen started touching women’s private parts just to break the picketline.

A government employee filed a complaint on sexual harassment to the head of the regional office she works with. To get back to the employee, the administrator pressured and demoralized the employee to the point that it is very hard for her to work productively and left with no choice but either to give up the case she filed or to resign from work.

In a context were 55% of the establishments violate the general labor standards specially on working conditions, it is almost useless to asked if women are enjoying protection at their workplaces. Thousands of women in shopping malls around the country stand almost all day to oversee their areas and deal will customers. Garment workers suffer hearing impairment after long exposure to the noise of the high-speed sewing machine. The graphic contradiction of women doing the graveyard shift has not only magnified the social costs but also the health implications. Women working at night are also easy targets of the silent war that is happening in workplaces – sexual harassment.

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And one cannot easily find refuge in the landmark law which the Ramos government flaunt as a milestone for Filipinas. The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 states that sexual harassment in a work-related or employment environment is committed when:

"The sexual favor is made a condition in the hiring or in the employment, re-employment or continued employment of said individual, or in granting said individual favorable compensation, terms, conditions or promotions or privileges, or the refusal to grant sexual favors results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee which in any way would discriminate or otherwise adversely affect said employee.

The above acts would impair the employee’s right or privileges under the existing labor laws, or the above acts would result in any intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the employee…"

The law states that it is the duty of the employer to draft the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) and to set-up a Committee on Decorum and Investigation within the company which will dispose cases of sexual harassment. Until now, there are only few companies with existing Committee on Decorum. It is still a non-priority and this is compounded by the fact that the law provides no sanction for those who are not performing what has been mandated.

Since this is not a priority of the employers then the initiative has to come from the union. Such will be brought to the attention of the union if the women in the union are solid enough to lobby with the union officers to make this a union issue. Several IRRs in the hotel industry were formulated through the efforts of the women unionists. But in cases where an establishment is faced with other labor-related problems, the sexual harassment issue will automatically take a "backseat". There are also unions who were able to draft the IRR but the proposals were left unattended on the table of the employer.

Even in establishments where IRRs and Committees exist, there is a need to orient all the workers about the law. As a measure, one of the hotels included sexual harassment as part of orientation to newly-hired staff/workers. But this posed new problems because the rest of the workforce are not made aware of the new law.

A union confronted a difficult situation where the people involved in the sexual harassment case were both union members. The officers were placed in a dilemma as to how to protect both workers. The management decided to suspend the harasser for a period of one week to which the victim contends that such is not enough to compensate for what he did to her. Other union officers argued that one week is too much, therefore, suspension should be reduced to three days. Situation like this calls for internal policy within the unions on cases of sexual harassment. We should not be blind on the fact that even in unions, sexual harassment exists. If the organization has no policy for such then it becomes more difficult to address the issue as a union.

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Working Mothers: A Contradiction?

In the wrapping section of the a biscuit factory, workers have to stand while working. The union requested the management to at least give chairs for pregnant women to which they answered "Kaartehan lang yan." (rough translation "That’s only play acting.")

It was observed that many pregnant women suffer spontaneous abortion in a garments factory in Mandaluyong. Majority of them are high speed sewers exposed to the heat of the sewing machine. They are piece-raters who have to reach a quota to get the minimum wage per day. It is also very common that women have urinary tract infections because they do not relieve themselves as needed because of the pressure of meeting the required quota for the day.

The cited discriminatory practices on women bear heavily on the married ones. Some companies disallow employment of husband and wives. Usually it is the woman who resigns. Advertisements for job openings for women usually have the "preferably single" clause.

Married women are also denied employment because of maternity benefits and leaves. This is further aggravated by the below international standard maternity laws. They merely mandate every employer to provide maternity leave with pay to any woman worker, with or without a

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spouse for workers in the private sector. Eight weeks is given to a woman who delivered normally while 78 days is given to cesarean birth. In the public sector, eight weeks maternity leave is given to married women only. Both are clearly below international labor standard to which the Philippine government is a signatory since 1968 (ILO Convention 110) which states that minimum maternity leave should be 12 weeks.

Maternity and childcare are mere "spirits of policies and laws". Article 132 of the Labor Code provides for the establishment of a nursery in a workplace for the benefit of the women workers while Republic Act 6972, on the other hand, provides for the establishment of daycare centers in every barangay or village. But ground level reality leaves so much wanting. The government even launched a national campaign on breastfeeding but the support systems are lacking. Majority of the workplaces do not provide for nursing breaks or nursing facilities for women to express their milk.

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The Invisible Labor

I work in one of the biggest shopping malls in the country. We open from 10:00 am up to 8:30 pm. We have limited "seating breaks" and practically stands the whole time. Being a mother of two, I still have to take care of the household chores and check on the school assignments of my children when I arrive from work. This is further compounded by the traffic and the far location of my house. I am wondering if it is still worthy to work.

At present, when we refer to economic activity it does not include majority of women’s work that are done outside of the formal labor. Women’s domestic work remained unpaid. Agricultural work and informal sector are left out of labor statistics. Non-recognition of women’s reproductive work is manifested in the absence of legislation to provide social services to full-time homemakers and non-inclusion of reproductive work in growth measurement of gross national outputs. In the agricultural sector, women have been consistently reported as unpaid family worker.

Even few available statistics continue to magnify this obvious fact. Since majority of the household tasks are carried out by women, they have longer working day compared to men. Based on the National Statistics Office, men work 59.2 hours in a week (10.5 for domestic work and 48.7 for market work) while women work 77.8 hours (44.6 for domestic work and 33.2 for market work). Based on the results of special studies conducted in Bicol and Mindanao in 1985, 1987 and 1990, total working time of rural women (68.1) in economic and domestic activities is generally higher than that of men (53.5) indicating multiple burden on the part of women.

Likewise, the informal labor which serves as the only employment opportunity for women when faced with unemployment and underemployment is characterized by the absence of legal protection which exposes women to exploitative work relations and conditions. Homeworkers, mostly women and children, are now increasing rapidly as more and more employers (many of them exporters) use subcontracting arrangements specially in garments industry. They become piece-rate workers who work long hours just to reach their quota or to finish more to increase their income for the day.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2001

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