But of course it’s discrimination
Who says the courts are deaf to entreaties? They’re not. They’re just deaf to the entreaties of the aggrieved, not of those that make them so.
Only recently, Philippine Airlines entreated the Court of Appeals to scrap Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz’s 2010 ruling equalizing the retirement age for all flight attendants to 60 years old. The Court of Appeals’ Seventh Division heard it, and did so, rolling back retirement ages to the previous 60 for men and 55 for women. It handed down its decision last month, June 18, which went largely unnoticed.
Surprisingly because it is a monumental iniquity. It deserves an equally monumental hue and cry not just from the women’s groups but from the public at large.
The background of the case is this: In 2010, PAL and the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap) found themselves deadlocked while renegotiating their collective bargaining agreement. Fasap had two demands, which were increased economic benefits and equal retirement age for men and women. The first was negotiable, the second was not. So resolute was Fasap about equal retirement age it filed a notice of strike when management proved unyielding to it.
To forestall the strike, Fasap and PAL agreed to bring the matter to the Department of Labor and Employment for arbitration. Baldoz arbitrated in favor of the flight attendants. Her ruling added whole new dimensions to daang matuwid. It was as enlightened and progressive a ruling as you could get. Apart from added economic benefits for the flight attendants, she ordered: 1) “The compulsory retirement age shall be fixed at 60 for all Fasap members.” 2) “PAL shall credit two pregnancy leaves for a maximum of seven months for each leave.” 3. “The crediting of maternity leaves benefits… shall be applied prospectively.”
PAL wanted all this scrapped and the Court of Appeals was only too willing to oblige. Some appeals appeal more to the appeals justices, glitter being chief them. I’ll leave the question of economic benefits for another time. As retirement age went, however, the justices argued: One, Baldoz did not have jurisdiction over the case. Her assuming it constituted abuse of authority. Two, her ruling in any case is defective: Retirement is not a gender-equality issue, it is a labor one. It is a matter for employers and employees to agree on in their CBAs. Fasap freely agreed to the 60-55 retirement age for men and women in its 2005-2010 CBA. For Baldoz to just ignore this was unconscionable. While at this, for Baldoz to have ignored the fact that Fasap went forum-shopping to press its cause was questionable.
For these reasons, the court ordered the old retirement ages restored—60 for men, 55 for women.
Beneath the tangle of legal verbiage in its decision is just plain idiocy. Why should the labor department not have jurisdiction over a labor case? Why should the labor secretary not have the power—and inescapable duty—to arbitrate in an impending strike, one moreover laid at her doorstep by both labor and management? Who the hell has jurisdiction over a case like this? The courts, such as this one, which have an enormous talent to be deliberately blind to so patent an iniquity?
Far more than this, what’s so wrong about Baldoz’s ruling? Where’s the part where she ignores the wishes of labor and management, Fasap and PAL, as expressed in their CBAs? True enough, in the past, Fasap had been content with the 60-55 arrangement in retirement ages for men and women. It itself says it had been forced to agree to this—which the Court of Appeals scoffs at, saying it could always have said no—as a matter of trade-off: It traded the retirement age for economic benefits. But by the end of the decade, things had completely changed. It was no longer willing to do so.
Time, enlightenment and the struggle of the women inside Fasap to improve their lot—there are 1,700 flight attendants; the women outnumber the men 70 percent to 30 percent—produced that resolve. By 2010, Fasap had reached a point where they could no longer abide a discrepancy, or disparity, or iniquity in retirement ages. Enough to be willing to go on strike for it. Can you have any wish more writ in tablet? Can you have any desire more etched in stone? Can you have any consummation more clearly, ardently, passionately expressed?
In fact, it is not Baldoz who is blind to the commitments PAL and Fasap have made, it is the Court of Appeals. It is not Baldoz whose ruling is defective, it is the Court of Appeals’. Why on earth would you want the flight attendants to be bound by an expired agreement they have already rejected, sinusuka na nila, and gone to so much trouble to change? That’s not just infirm, that’s paraplegic.
It’s also monumentally unjust. It’s all shadow without substance. Call it forum-shopping, call it what you like, but Fasap has every reason to bring the issue to the attention of the public. This isn’t just something for the courts to decide, or hide, it is for the public to see, and judge. It isn’t just a labor issue, it is a social one. It isn’t just a legal issue, it is a moral one.
What earthly reason, what scientific reason, what sane, rational, comprehensible reason is there for forcing female flight attendants to retire earlier than men? The fact that they predominate airlines, particularly PAL, makes it all the more vicious and cruel. Para makatipid.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals kept using “alleged” to refer to Baldoz’s depiction of the difference in retirement ages as a gender-equality issue. What in hell is so alleged about it? It patently has to do with gender. It patently has to do with equality. It patently has to do with the fact that the old agreement, which Baldoz tossed out of the window, does not give equality to men and women.
But of course it’s discrimination.