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‘Ang usaping manggagawa ay usaping LGBT’ – Claire

In Cabuyao, Laguna, the workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. who were dismissed from their work continue to fight for their rights. But perhaps not as widely known is how this struggle also affects members of the LGBT community.

Claire

Hinding hindi ko malilimutan ang araw na ‘yun (I can never forget that day),” transgender woman Claire said. Claire was raising her arms, holding up her ruined footwear, and repeatedly crying out: “Tama na po (Enough, please)!

Claire is only one of the 96 contractual employees of Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna who decided to launch a sudden strike after they were told on May 16 to stop reporting to work by May 18. At that day that Claire recalled, she was with other workers like her who were dismissed by Tanduay Distillers Inc., and they were getting pushed while being attacked by the people hired by the company to dismantle their ranks.

Ang nasa isip ko, may masamang mangyayari habang inaatake kami ng mga security forces nila (In my mind, something bad will happen while the company’s security forces were attacking us),” Claire said.

Claire was luckier than the others for not getting seriously hurt that day. After the attack on them, when she caught up with her partner of two years – who was also dismissed by Tanduay Distillers Inc. – “nakita ko, worried siya. Tinanong niya ako: ‘Okay ka lang?’ Alam kong gusto niya akong yakapin. Pero kailangan naming magpakatatag para sa pinaglalaban namin. Nasaktan nga ako, oo, pero hindi pa tapos ang laban (I saw him, and he looked worried. He asked me: ‘Are you okay?’ I know he wanted to give me a hug. But we needed to be strong/show strength for what we’re fighting for. I was hurt, yes, but the fight isn’t over yet),” Claire said.

The difficulties of the workers led to the formation of Tanggulan Ugnayang Daluyang Lakas ng Anakpawis sa Tanduay Distillers (TUDLA); and Claire is now one of the recognized leaders.

As such, she echoes the call for regularization not only of those who were dismissed, but of all of the plant’s 397 contractual workers (approximately 90% of the total workforce of the facility in Cabuyao), as well as improvement of their working conditions.

And yes, Claire said that “sa mga nagtatrabaho sa Tanduay Distillers Inc., hindi ako nag-iisang miyembro ng LGBT community (of all the people working for Tanduay Distillers Inc., I am not the only member of the LGBT community).”

For Claire, "hindi na ito naging usapin lang ng pagiging LGBT; usapin na rin ito ng kawalan ng karapatan maging LGBT man o hindi (This is no longer just an issue of being LGBT; this is also an issue of the lack of rights for LGBT and for non-LGBT people)."

For Claire, “hindi na ito naging usapin lang ng pagiging LGBT; usapin na rin ito ng kawalan ng karapatan maging LGBT man o hindi (This is no longer just an issue of being LGBT; this is also an issue of the lack of rights for LGBT and for non-LGBT people).”

GIVING FACE TO #KaraniwangLGBT

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Claire is friends – and “frenemies” – with other gay men (out and closeted) who used to work/still work for Tanduay Distillers Inc. However, she is unable to cite exact figures on the number of those who may be beki (gay). And yet, when she was still with the company, she knew of “iba’t ibang gawaing na naka-apekto sa pagiging trans ko (various practices that affected my trans identity),” Claire said.

At least in Cabuyao, Laguna, Tanduay Distillers Inc. only hires those who were assigned male at birth (i.e. men) – itself an issue in gender fair hiring. But specific to Claire, as a transgender woman, “maraming bawal (there were a lot of restrictions),” she said. For instance, Claire was forced to be “mas mukhang lalaki (appear more manly)”, including getting a haircut, as well as wearing more masculine-looking clothes.

Because of the all-male hiring policy of Tanduay Distillers Inc., Claire said she became the “kilalang babae (recognized woman).” As such, she experienced repeated harassment. “Pinipisil nila ang suso ko, hinahawakan ang puwet ko (They pressed my breasts, touched my bottom)…” And sadly, “wala naman akong matakbuhan dahil ang sabi nga nila, lalaki naman daw kami lahat sa loob (I didn’t know who to turn to because I was told that everyone there is male).”

Claire was fortunate to have met a co-worker who became her now partner of two years. “Sinisiguro niyang okay lang ako (He makes sure I am okay),” she said.

ISSUE OF ALL

When both Claire and her partner were dismissed, their issue became part of the bigger issue on labor practices in the Philippines – particularly, the contractualization of labor in the country. As Claire said: “Hindi na ito naging usapin lang ng pagiging LGBT; usapin na rin ito ng kawalan ng karapatan maging LGBT man o hindi (This is no longer just an issue of being LGBT; this is also an issue of the lack of rights for LGBT and for non-LGBT people).”

In the Philippines, numerous companies employ Labor Only Contracting (LOC), a practice which is deemed illegal under the Labor Code.

Article 281 of the Labor Code states: “Probationary employment shall not exceed six months from the date the employee started working <…> The services of an employee who has been engaged on a probationary basis may be terminated for a just cause or when he fails to qualify as a regular employee in accordance with reasonable standards made known by the employer to the employee at the time of his engagement. An employee who is allowed to work after a probationary period shall be considered a regular employee.”

Meanwhile, Article 280 on Regular and Casual Employment states that “any employee who has rendered at least one year of service, whether such service is continuous or broken, shall be considered a regular employee with respect to the activity in which he is employed and his employment shall continue while such activity exists.”

However, a common practice – an “open secret”, in a manner of speaking – is for companies to repeatedly terminate contracts before the six-month period is finished, thereby avoiding regularization.

Many of those who support the affected workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. – such as this transman and his partner – are themselves not well-off, but understand the how being LGBT can contribute to encountering difficulties in the workplace.

Many of those who support the affected workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. – such as this transman and his partner – are themselves not well-off, but understand how being LGBT can contribute to encountering difficulties in the workplace.

In the case of Tanduay Distillers Inc., there were workers who supposedly worked for the company for five years, with others rendering services longer than that, for as long as 11 years. Despite the length of their employment, these workers remained non-regular employees.

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Regularization is necessary for the workers to have security of tenure (to start, be paid as regular employees – i.e. not just P315 or less per day), and – with that – the benefits (such as medical or sick leave, vacation leave, and bonuses) that come with being regular employees.

By the way, Tanduay Distillers Inc. is owned by taipan Lucio Tan, the second richest man in the Philippines with a new worth of over $6.1 billion. The company’s annual profits exceed P12 billion. And it is estimated that for every peso that for every peso that Tanduay Distillers Inc. earns, only P0.003 goes to its employees.

Even without openly intending to, Claire’s case is becoming a mirror showing how this very issue also affects members of the LGBT community.

Sadly, not that many LGBT organizations have extended support – or, arguably, even aware of – the fight of the likes of Claire.

At least one supporting organization, Kapederasyon, stated that: “Bilang bahagi ng malawak na uring anakpawis at iba pang pinagsasamantalahang sektor sa lipunan, kaisa ng mga manggagawa ang hanay ng militanteng LGBT sa maigting na pakikibaka para mawakasan ang kontraktwalisasyon na nagsasadlak sa mga obrero sa mababang sahod at kawalan ng benepisyo at seguridad sa hanapbuhay (As part of the wider labor forces and other abused sectors of society, militant LGBT people are one with the workers in the fight to end contractualization that force workers to accept low wages, no benefits and no security of tenure).”

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Kapederasyon, in fact, calls for “lahat ng LGBT na nakakalat sa iba’t ibang sektor para makiisa sa pakikibaka ng mga manggagawa, magtungo sa mga pabrika at piketlayn, makibahagi sa paglaban sa kontraktuwalisasyon, sa paggigiit na itaas ang sahod at pagtitiyak ng kaligtasan sa mga pagawaan, sa pakikipaglaban para sa regularisasyon at seguridad sa hanapbuhay, at pagkakamit ng pambansang kalayaan at demokrasya (all LGBT people in different sectors to join the struggle of the workers, go to the factory and picket line, and be part of the fight against contractualization, and the fight to increase wages, and ensuring the safety of the workers, and the fight in regularization and security of tenure, and the attainment of freedom and democracy).”

CALL FOR REGULARIZATION

A week after the workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. went on strike, the regional office of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Southern Tagalog rendered a decision agreeing with TUDLA. Specifically, the labor department stated that concerned companies are guilty of “Non-compliance with Department Order No. 18-A,” and the DOLE listed the violations showing how the agencies and Tanduay are engaged in LOC.

So far, though, no regularization has happened. Instead, the harassment has been happening.

Claire’s dream is to “marealize ang pagkababae ko (realize my womanhood),” she said. She dreams of marrying her partner one day in the future. But not until “bumalik kung ano ako noon – mahaba ang buhok, may hubog ang katawan, makinis ang balat (I am back to what I was before – with long hair, a voluptuous body, with clear skin)…”

She recognizes that she is portraying a stereotyped representation of being a woman, but “doon ako masaya (that’s where I’m happy),” she said.

But her journey to self-realization is, for now, on hold because of what happened to her in Tanduay Distillers Inc.

Uunahin ko pa ba ‘yan kesa sa paghanap ng pera para sa pagkain (Will I prioritize that over finding money for food)?” she asked.

As such, for Claire, “ang usaping manggagawa ay usaping LGBT. At mas maaga nating ma-recognize ‘yan, mas maaga nating matutugunan ang pangangailangan ng miyembro ng ating community na nangangailangan ng pansin natin (Labor issues/issues of the workforce are issues of LGBT people. And the sooner we recognize that, then the sooner we can provide responses to the needs of members of our community who need proper attention),” Claire ended.

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