Ateneo admin panel holds forum on CBA deadlock

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THE ATENEO Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Administration Panel held an open forum with students regarding their long-standing dispute with the Ateneo Employees and Workers Union (AEWU).

The forum was facilitated by University President Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, panel chairperson Jose Mario Francisco, SJ, and other members of the CBA Administration Panel.

They discussed the ‘deadlock’ status of their CBA with the union and their plans concerning the possible strike.

The forum was held on January 26, at the Faura AVR.

Countering AEWU’s claims

Villarin reiterated that the source of salary increase for all employees is from the Tuition Fee Increase (TFI), saying that he does not want to inconvenience students to pay higher tuition.

He said that, in order for the administration to meet the union’s demands, the tuition would have to increase by 20%. “We cannot just raise tuition that much,” he said.

Though AEWU argued that Ateneo can use money from its General Fund, Villarin said that this was “unsustainable,” saying that salary increases cannot be taken from “some static reservoir.”

Because the salary is a flow, it's something that's recurring. The General Fund cannot be used for these salary increases...it’s recurring,” he said. “We have to be careful with the increases every year.”

Francisco added that the General Fund is used for buildings and equipment, which he believes are “what Ateneans are paying for.”

“Ano ba ang mas mahalaga, building o tao (Which is more important, buildings or people)?” he asked, pertaining to some signages AEWU has been using for their lunchtime protests.

“Sabi ko, kung halimbawa, may isang tao na namamatay, in dire need, at pagkatapos no’n magpapagawa ka ng building na maraming borlolot, eh syempre, maliwanag, ‘yung tao. Pero ‘yun ba ang sitwasyon?” he said.

(I said, for example, there is a person dying, in dire need, and after that you’re going to build a building with lots of things, of course, obviously, the person. But is that the situation?)

He added, “'Yung inyong mga lab equipment, ‘yung inyong mga facilities, mahalaga ba ‘yon? Pagpasok niyo lang sa Ateneo aasahan niyo na Ateneo will give the best equipment as much as possible.”

(Your lab equipment, your facilities, are those important? You go to Ateneo and expect that Ateneo will give the best equipment as possible.)

Villarin also said that the offers for union and non-union members are “incomparable,” as union members have been granted benefits “not as often” given to non-union members.

According to Human Resources Director Maria Victoria Cortez, these benefits include educational benefits, rice allowance, and service incentive leaves exclusive only to union members.

“So lahat nung naiibibigay na benefit, sumasama ‘yun dun sa pondo. Hindi na siya mailalagay sa sweldo, pero naibigay naman sa benefits (All that are given in the benefits, they’re part of the funds. They cannot be put into the salaries, but they’re given through the benefits),” Cortez said.

Ateneo also assured that they are complying with legal requirements regarding the minimum wage mandated by the government.

Cortez said that all new union members receive at least the government-mandated minimum of Php 512 a month. Once they become a regular member after three months, they receive an increase of Php 410 per month.

“We are very compliant because we're giving them the minimum already. And on top of the minimum, we're offering this general increase,” she said.

She added that the increases and other benefits are “out of the generosity of the institution.”

In spite of AEWU calling the administration out for “not being fair or generous,” Villarin said that he believes otherwise.

“I don’t think we have been barat (I don’t think we have been stingy),” he said. “In fact, I think we have been generous with our employees.”

Issues on ‘wrong computation,’ contractual workers

Ateneo also said that they unintentionally included financial endowments for professorial chairs in their initial financial statements, and that they have already made the changes to correct this.

“Mayroong naisama doon na mga salaries na-source from grants (Some salaries that were sourced from grants were included),” said Cortez. “At that time, we just got the total salaries, and then when they pointed that out, we tried to review.”

Because of this, the 5.18% figure, as stated in Ateneo’s infographic, is no longer valid. Though Ateneo is unable to present the new figure, Cortez estimates that it is “around 6%.”

When asked about allegedly hiring four contractual workers shortly before the notice of strike, Francisco denied this, but also said to “leave” the decision of hiring contractual workers in general to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

“Nasa DOLE na ‘yun. Hayaan natin ang DOLE na magdesisyon kung unfair labor practice 'yun,” said Francisco. “Ang ating opinion, hindi naman ito ang magdedecide kung unfair labor practice ‘yun.”

(It’s left to DOLE. Let’s let DOLE decide if it is unfair labor practice. Our opinions won’t decide whether it’s unfair labor practice.)

The hiring of contractual workers during a strike is illegal, according to DOLE Department Order 174, Section 6.

In case of strike

If the strike occurs, Villarin assures that the university will continue its daily operations by asking for voluntary participation from the community.

“What we plan to do is request for volunteers from our own faculty and our own supervisors, so that they can do whatever needs to be done,” he said.

“Let me just assure you that if there is a strike, there will be classes,” said Villarin. “We will make sure that classes go on, and that your security [is taken care of]… that's important. We won't suspend our operations because of this.”

During the open forum, Riel Gutierrez (3 AB PSY), a son of two AEWU members, asked, “Ano pong gagawin [ng Ateneo], sakaling matuloy ang strike, na walang maiuuwing pera ang mga member ng unyon sa kanilang pamilya (What would [Ateneo] do, in case the strike occurs, in which the union members cannot bring money to their families)?”

Francisco said that he “respects their decision,” but can “do nothing.”

“Pinili nila ‘yun, eh. Wala akong magagawa (They chose that, I can do nothing),” said Francisco.Kinalulungkot ko, pero wala akong magagawa. Walang magagawa ang pamantasan (It saddens me, but there is nothing I can do. The university cannot do anything).

Francisco believes that there is no losing or winning in the situation.

“Hindi ito laban na, talo sila, panalo tayo... kundi, paano tayo magkakatagpo (This isn’t a war where, they lose, we win… instead, how do we meet in the middle)?” he said.

Addressing the situation as “hurtful,” Villarin requested the students to understand both sides of the matter critically.

“I cannot impose these things on your head, or ask you to side with me,” he said. “In fact, I don't want this community to be divided.”

“I hope that we will continue to try to understand this painful situation. I hope we'll be stronger after this,” he added.

Although the 7-day strike ban has been lifted, Villarin sent out a memo to the Loyola Schools community on January 31, stating that the conduct of the strike is being held off. He said that negotiations are continuing between the two parties with the aid of DOLE.

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