Is Government Pro-Labor or Pro-Management?

When I was still serving the government as Executive Director (Executive Clerk of Court IV)* of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), I conducted a personal experiment. I ran a (very informal) survey among the businessmen and labor leaders that I had the chance to meet and talk to during official and social occasions. I asked them only 1 question and took mental note of their answers.

My question is: “Do you think that the government, the NLRC and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in particular, is pro-labor or pro-management?

I was able to survey 25 businessmen, 10 union officials, and at least 10 assertive workers. (I consider them assertive because they frequently follow-up their pending labor cases).

100% of the people I surveyed from the business sector strongly believes that the government is pro-labor. On the other hand, all the representatives from the labor sector replied quite indignantly that the government is totally pro-management.

Are you surprised? I was.

I guess when the government tries hard to please everyone it ends up pleasing no one. And this is so true in labor-management relations, especially when there is already a full-blown labor dispute. It’s a win-lose scenario. There’s bound to be a triumphant party and a vanquished one. And it’s the government who decides who wins and who loses. But often times, it’s really a lose-lose situation for both parties because of the substantial amount of money, time, energy, emotions and other resources spent (and wasted) in such a lengthy and tedious process before finality and satisfaction of judgment. Not to mention the terrible anxiety and psychological stress that accompany every case under litigation.

In the NLRC, the process starts with the labor arbiter who hears and decides your case. His decision is appealable to the NLRC commission proper, which decides your appeal through a division composed of 3 commissioners. The decision of the NLRC division may still be challenged when it is elevated to the Court of Appeals by way of a petition for certiorari. In turn, the decision of the Court of Appeals is appealable to the Supreme Court. This four-tiered adjudication process can take years! I knew of a case that was pending for 18 years at the time when I was about to leave the NLRC. This was in 2006. The case went up and down and then went back up again the Supreme Court!

This is one of the reasons why the DOLE and the NLRC have been encouraging the parties to settle and consider it as a win-win solution. But even when the parties enter into a compromise, both sides don’t see it as win-win. The aggrieved party, whether it’s the employer or the employee, feels that justice was somehow denied. Why? Because the aggrieved employer thinks he actually owes nothing to his employee, and yet he was still made to pay a good deal of money in order to buy peace. The aggrieved employee, on the other hand, believes that, under the law, he is entitled to much more than what he actually received under the compromise. So he ask, “where’s justice?” He ask this question repeatedly after the measly amount he received is spent and gone. This is why government policies encouraging, or even advocating, amicable settlements in labor disputes are viewed with outright suspicion by either side, more particularly by the party who firmly believes in the strength of his case or in the justness of his cause.

Not everyone embraces the win-win mentality. It’s difficult to convince people to look at the bright side when the world is either black or white to them. The fault of government, when it tries to broker a compromise, is that it often plays on the fears of the litigants rather than help them truly see the possibilities. Yes, this technique settles cases, but it makes people feel bitter. It reinforces their belief that we have a severely flawed legal and judicial system.

Some of the businessmen I interviewed were my friends even before I joined the NLRC, and so I felt that I owe them an explanation (or an apology) since I was then an NLRC official. I told them that, we, in government try very hard to be impartial and fair to both the management and labor sectors. However, the laws and policies that we are tasked to implement and enforce are pro-labor. I even ventured that government is inherently management-friendly. But our hands are tied. Guess what? They didn’t believe me.

Exasperatedly, I told them to look at the facts.

Are we being ruled by a communist party? Have we become a socialist state? Isn’t our economy and politics patterned after the American model? Surely, we practice capitalism (even though our vast countryside is still semi-feudal). Last time I checked, privately-owned enterprises (and not state-owned companies) are our primary engines of growth and progress. Private ownership (instead of communal or state ownership) of capital and resources, whether land, building, machinery, finance, technology or intellectual property, is the norm and it’s fully protected by our laws. The Filipino entrepreneur’s dream and quest for profit, acquisition, accumulation, and expansion are encouraged and supported in an environment of regulated competition. Capitalism remains to be the means by which our government tries to generate more and better employment opportunities, as well as increase the supply of goods and services, and improve the quality and efficiency of the delivery. It is also the means by which our government promotes new and better technologies, lower prices, and in general, uplift the quality of life of all.

Now, under the capitalist system, who do you think is the ruling elite? In Tagalog, sino ba sa palagay mo ang bida sa sistemang kapitalismo? Who are the bosses? Of course, it’s the capitalists, the entrepreneurs, and the business owners. They have managers who represent and protect their interests in their private enterprises. And they also have politicians who represent and protect their interests in government. Need I say more? Sometimes, it is not good to over-stress the obvious. (It is my belief that the Philippines is still ruled by an oligarchy, a handful of families who dominate our politics, economy and culture. But that’s the topic of another article.)

Against this political and economic backdrop, we have many provisions of law that protect labor like Article 4 of the Labor Code which provides: “All doubts in the implementation and interpretation of the provisions of this Code, including its implementing rules and regulations, shall be resolved in favor of labor.” We also have many Supreme Court decisions, that have come part of the law of the land, giving an edge to laborers in their disputes against capitalists, among these is the often repeated ruling that employers have the burden of proof in labor cases.

Hence, my fearless conclusion: The people in government are inherently friendly to management. But we have many laws and policies that are pro-labor…

Now that I'm back in the private sector as a labor & business lawyer, I always bear these lessons in mind.

(This is a revision of my article that was originally published in 2013 in the periodical Opinyon.)

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