Swerving Millions

609px-sm_logo1Retail giant SM super malls is celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark this special occasion, they decided to adapt the theme “Serving Millions” .

The PDI staff did an interesting short article on SM’s golden anniversary.

Want to know how many pairs of shoes were sold by the SM Department Stores in 2007? More than 21 million. How many people came to SM malls during the same period? More than 900 million. How many meals were served in SM food courts and restaurants? Over 400 million. How many moviegoers relaxed and watched movies at SM Cinemas? More than 18 million.

Wait there’s more.

Last year, 50 million kilos of chicken filled SM Supermarket customers’ shopping carts. More than a million umbrellas were sold by SM Department Stores and about 15 million Christmas lights and ornaments from SM brightened up Filipino homes over the holidays last year.

Needless to say, all this riches made SM’s owner, mall magnate Henry Sy, the wealthiest man in the country. Forbes Magazine has revealed that the man is now worth 3.1 billion dollars, earning him a spot in the prestigious magazine’s Global Billionaires List.

But there seems to be no stopping Sy to amassing more wealth. Just this month, SM opened another supermarket branch in Cubao, bringing the number of SM stores in the country to 98.

According to SM, its fleet of malls is now comprised of 33 department stores, 24 supermarkets, 13 SaveMore branches, 13 SM Hypermarkets and 15 Makro outlets. There are also 3 SM malls in China.

Sy also owns the third largest mall in the world, SM City North EDSA – a 4.5 million square foot stretch of shopping dreamland in the heart of Quezon City.

“SM retail will continue to increase its presence nationwide,” SM Investments president Harley Sy said.

“This reiterates SM’s sustained commitment to the Philippine economy and its potential to deliver long-term growth and expansion amid short-term challenges posed by the global crisis.”

The younger Sy isn’t kidding. In fact, SM is set to conquer Bicolandia, opening a mall there by March next year. So this early, the Naga City Public Employment Service Office couldn’t contain its excitement for the mall’s scheduled opening.

NCPESO manager Florencio Mongoso has stated that SM Naga would be needing 4,000 workers to man its stores,which he said is good news to for his city’s 160,000 inhabitants.

He noted that an estimated P12 million would be injected to the local economy through workers’ salaries and another P40 million in city taxes.

But of course, Mongoso failed to point out that the 4 thousand jobs in SM Naga will only be good for three to six months. Same goes to all of SM’s 98 super stores, as a matter of fact.

The SM fleet of malls now has over 30,000 contractual employees throughout the country. Management prefers to call them “trainees.” They are hired through a recruitment firm which is connected to the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

Apparently, SM management prefers INC members because they are disallowed to join unions. No wonder only a measly 2,000 of its entire workforce are unionized.

This means SM actually hires as high as 120,000 workers per year because they fire 30,000 workers every three to six months.

These deplorable conditions – job insecurity, union busting, low pay – has triggered four workers’ strikes by SM workers since the 1990s. The last one was staged in the middle of 2003.

I was among the hundreds of supporters who showed up to defend the picketlines in the now 3rd largest mall on Earth. I remember SM unleashed hired goons that time to drive away the strikers and their supporters by violently dispersing the crowd using 2 by 2 sticks and rocks hauled in steel carts.

Of course, the strikers fought back using their placards and flag poles. I saw one throwing duhat (black plum) to the flanked goons whose white shirts were stained permanent because of the pesky black fruit.

SM Strike (Bulatlat photo)

Striking SM workers (Bulatlat photo)

Militant womens’ group Gabriela supported the SM workers’ strike back in 2003. They said the workers, almost all of them women, suffer “exploitative” working conditions from the hands of the SM management owned by the “Contractualization King” Henry Sy.

As patrons and consumers of Shoemart, GABRIELA is one with the struggle of the women workers who comprise 85% of the labor force. They spend the whole day on their feet, loyally serving SM customers and bringing in billions of pesos in profit for Mr. Sy in exchange for low wages, job insecurity, and inhuman working conditions. In particular, we deplore the working condition in which women are made to wear short skirts and two-inch high heels all day. They have to secure a pass before they can go to the comfort room for only 3-5 minutes. Pregnant women are not even provided with seats so they can rest occasionally.

Such exploitative conditions are experienced not only by regular workers but also by the majority of women contractual workers or trainees whose fair skin and “pleasing personality” are used as added attraction for the merchandise they are selling. They are made to stand up for eightstraight hours, greeting and assisting customers while wearing permanent smiles plastered on their faces. For all these, they get nothing more than minimum wage, no benefits and are not even allowed to join the union. Worse, the SM management treats them like merchandise that has to be dispensed with before the six months “expiry date.”

There. So, as we do our Christmas shopping in one of SM’s malls in the country, May I ask everyone to think about the plight of its workers whose measly wages and inhuman conditions in the workplace pays for the continued expansion of Henry Sy’s mall empire and is, undoubtedly, a major factor in the tycoon’s amassing of staggering wealth.

Let us also support workers’ calls for the scrapping of contractualization of labor which is considered to be the worst thing to ever hit Filipino workers apart of course from low pay and other labor woes.

And oh, just so you know, the Arroyo regime in effect legitimized the practice of labor contractualization when it passed DOLE Order No. 10-97 which provided a list of of jobs where contractualization is deemed legal.

Happy Christmas to all!