Aywanan Ti Masakbayan: The miner’s lament

by AMIANAN SALAKNIBAN
www.nordis.net

All day long toiling in the dark,
Hoping the next vein will hit the mark.
A poor man dreams of golden ore
Our foreman screams, “Dig some more”

I keep digging and praying
That dying beneath the mountain isn’t my ending
I’m a miner, for better or for worse
And blood, sweat, and tears won’t fill my purse.

– from “The Miner’s Lament”, Elder Scrolls Online (Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax Online Studios, 2014)

As the Northern Luzon environment continues to be devastated by destructive projects such as mines, dams and power plants, the people also continue to suffer from the effects that the so-called “development” brings. From the local communities, farmers, residents of mining areas and even the workers in the companies, all sectors are negatively affected by existing legal and illegal mining companies in the three regions.

The people all over Northern Luzon share the same story of how they were duped by the false progress that the companies promised to supposedly elevate them from poverty, one of which is the creation of jobs that will prioritize the localities. In reality, those who were lucky enough to work in the mining companies continue to experience rampant contractualization, depressed wages, lack of benefits, insecurity of tenure and workers’ rights violations.

Contractualization has become the increasing trend in mining companies to profit more from the labour of the workers and at the same time hold lesser accountability to whatever happens to them. In mines, regular and contractual workers do the same job. They suffer the harsh conditions underneath the earth such as heat, lack of oxygen, poisoning, and the high risk of getting killed in mine accidents. Yet contractual workers get measly wages and lesser or no benefits as compared to regular workers. Contractual miners are also not allowed to create unions as they can easily be terminated.

Regular employees are also at risk of being laid off easily, especially those who are active in unions as in the case of the miners in OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya. In 2012, local farmers who became workers were reported to earn P50 per hour–half of what workers from Manila were getting, and lesser benefits. Those who tried to speak up against the management and became active in the union were immediately dismissed. Just last year, the company laid off 40% of its work force and later on bragged about its record net profit of US$111.5 million earlier this year.

What’s worse is that the government legalized and promoted contractualization since the enactment of the Labor Code of 1974, also known as the Herrera Law. The Herrera Law allowed various forms of contractual employment, including the currently widespread system of employing workers through layers upon layers of agencies. More than 90% of currently available jobs in the Philippines are contractual in nature.

The Aquino administration also made it worse with the DO 18-A series of 2011. Aquino promised to regularize contractual workers but until now, the system of contractualization is still rampant as more and more government owned companies and agencies are being privatized. Mining companies are still gearing towards retrenching most of its regular employees and hiring more and more contractual workers to work in the mines.

Greedy mining companies are the only ones profiting from this system, not its workers, not the communities, and especially not our environment. In celebration of the International Worker’s Day, Amianan Salakniban supports the workers and miners all over the country fighting for just wages and rights. Let us unite to stop the continued retrenchment of regular miners and strive to regularize contractual miners. The Herrera Law should be repealed to illegalize contractualization all over the country. # nordis.net

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