By Chip Gibbons, Intern, ILRF
Lucio Tan was recently named by the Forbes Billionaires List as the 512th wealthiest person in the world and the second wealthiest person in the Philippines. Given his 2.8 billion in net worth one would think that Tan should have no difficulty complying with Filipino minimum wage and safety laws. However, Tan, in role as Chief Executive Officer of Eton Properties Philippines Inc, has had criminal charges filed against for failures to comply with minimum wage laws and employing a minor in dangerous occupation. He did not appear at a preliminary hearing held by prosecuters to investigate the charges against him.
On January 27, 2011, eleven construction workers fell from the 26th floor of an under construction high-rise condominium owned by Eton Properties, resulting in ten deaths and one serious injury. Among the deceased was 17-year old Kevin Mabunga. Additionally, while the minimum wage in the Philippines is Php404 families of the workers allege they were only paid Php280.
Families of some of the constructions workers (dubbed the “Eton 11”) have filed criminal charges against Lucio Tan under the Wage Rationalization Act. The Wage Rationalization Act, passed in 1989, governs the process by which minimum wages are established in the Philippines, and seeks to “ensure a decent standard of living for the workers and their families; to guarantee the rights of labor to its just share in the fruits of production...” It also sets up criminal penalties for companies and individuals who fail to pay mandated minimum wages. Under this law should a corporation fail to comply, a prison sentence can be imposed on “the president, vice-president, chief executive officer, general manager, managing director or partner...” Tan, as CEO, is thus liable under Filipino law if Eton Properties failed to pay minimum wages.
The Eton 11 case is not the first-time the billionaire business tycoon Tan has been the subject of controversy stemming from the labor policies of one of his companies. Tan also owns the Philippines Airline (PAL) which been has been involved in a dispute with its employees union, the PALE Employees Association or PALEA, over a plan to lay off nearly 2,600 workers and replace them with outsourced contract workers. In reaction to the very real possibility of a strike by the PALEA the state intervened under the Assumption of Jurisdiction Act placing a ban on the PALEA going on strike, as well as both sides taking actions that would worsen the dispute.
But tensions between PAL and the PALE again flared up earlier this month when PALEA accused the company of a “backdoor” implementation of the outsourcing plan due to a PAL proposal to temporarily allow contractual workers from MacroAsia to work at terminals. Due to union opposition to the proposal, including a threatened strike, PAL instead decided to hire the nearly 60 new customer service agents themselves as opposed to through MacroAsia. It should be noted that MacroAsia is also owned by Tan.
Tan has continuously found himself at the center of controversy concerning the labor policies of his companies while at the same amassing a massive personal fortune. Given his position on the Forbes Billionaire List and his ever growing net worth it is not unreasonable to expect him to pay his workers the legally mandated minimum age, comply with safety regulations, and not to seek to enrich himself at the expense of hardworking people whose only desire is to provide a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.
No amount of wealth, however, should be able to perpetuate injustice. This why it is important that public pressure be applied and that people demand that justice be served. The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research is asking those who support justice for the Eton 11 to sign a petition to Filipino President Aquinio demanding:
- Conduct a comprehensive and deep investigation of the incident;
- Make the EPPI its contractors and subcontractors liable for gross violations of labor rights;
- Provide enough indemnification to the families of the victims;
- Repeal the Department order 57-04 and push the government to ensure that all the labor standards and occupational safety regulations are implemented.