Of Unions And The Clamor For Change

This year, the month of May started with mixed emotions from private and public sector. The private sector union critical of the PRRD’s administration burned an effigy to show to the public how they perceive and felt about the government’s service delivery. The public sector unions simply kept quiet but I guess they are busy turning every stone to make a difference.

Unions are often criticized and some government officials seem to ignore the importance in the governance system. When they hear of the word union, some people connect it with radical movements that perform strikes, rallies, protests and other forms that manifest resistance or critical messages towards the government.

However, when taken into context, provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution can guide us to appreciate the role of unions in growth and development. Specifically, Section 8, Article III (Bill of Rights) “The rights of people, including those employed in the public and private sectors, to form unions, associations or societies for purposes not contrary to law shall not be abridged”.

Moreover, Section 2(5) Article IX-B (Constitutional Commissions) “The right to self-determination shall not be denied to government employees.”

In addition, Section 3, Article XIII (Social Justice and Human Rights) “It shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law”.

The above constitutional provisions can serve as guide for union officers and members to harness. However, limitations on the part of the public employees to explore the right to strike considering some implications not to mention previous court rulings.

In my understanding public sector unions can have multiple purposes. Unions can serve as mechanism in data gathering; information education campaign on relevant information and allows participation of employees in organizational management. The situation promotes closer relationship among rank and file employees to take part in policy formulation and in shaping programs responsive to the needs of employees and clients. Most often, rank and file that constitute public sector unions are front liners in most offices. Their experiences and suggestions to improve service delivery cannot be taken for granted by top management. While some public offices may have established systems and procedures that guide them in their operations, the changes in work environment occur and the need to update and re-invent is a necessity. As public sector employees clamor for change or reforms, the best way to handle it is through peaceful activities like dialogue; focal group discussions; staff meetings and conduct of human resource development activities to address welfare of employees.

Public sector unions when used by top government officials can be a powerful tool to put across proposed measures and updates to government employees. One classic example is the continuing Government Service Insurance System involvement of government union representatives during its periodic activities to provide relevant information such as changes in policies and updates on the status of the GSIS operations. The information directly communicated to representatives of rank and file employees by the GSIS contributed to enlightenment of members and might have reduced queries received by the state firm.

Moreover, in the case of the Cooperative Development Authority, the presence of employees union promotes closer relationship between rank and file employees and top management. Having recognized as a partner in the promotion of employees’ welfare and in advancing the vision, mission and goals of the institution, both parties entered into Memorandum of Agreement. This had been forwarded to the Civil Service Commission. Tasked to monitor public offices and the protection of employees’ rights, union encourages transparency accountability and quality service delivery. Recent moves of the CDAEU was the increase in mutual aid benefit for primary and secondary beneficiaries; assertion on the representation and active involvement of the union in the different undertakings of the agency; and advocacy for more programs that can enhance the attitudes, skills and knowledge of the employees towards quality and productivity.

In the meantime, accredited cooperative unions are busy conducting various activities to empower their affiliates and enhance the capabilities of cooperative officers, management and members to cope up with the changes. These unions are not composed of warm bodies but by primary and secondary cooperatives that believes in the spirit of cooperation among cooperatives. It is a mechanism to harness the pooling of resources and designing strategies in favor of the welfare of the members that contribute to the fund.

Finally, the idea that unions can bring changes in the workplace is a positive move by government and private enterprises. Unions can be used as mechanism for exploring ideal measures to ensure safety and protection of employees rights; it promotes cohesion and opportunity for top management and employees to negotiate and mutually agree for the welfare of the workforce; identifies the responsibilities the union members and top management need to perform beneficial to all including the institution; avenue for policy formulation and enhancement; and as a partner for social and economic growth. It is not always safe to say that everything sails smoothly in private and public institutions; several development challenges may exist. Other union groups may opt to burn effigies; spend hours of street protests; rallies; put up barricades and openly castigate persons to put across their messages before they demand for actions or reforms. But I personally believe that the best way to approach it is through consultation, cooperation and collaboration.

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