Workers identify contractualization as their biggest enemy

There are many forms of contractualization in different industries.


MANILA — Marvin Balasabas, 33, has been working for Asahi Glass for three years already but he is not considered a regular worker. He is hired as “an additional manning,” which means that he only reports to work when needed. He receives the minimum pay.

“At times, I only get to work twice or thrice a week,” he told, adding that his present working condition is a double whammy: having a meager salary and having it reduced further because he could not work every day.

Still, he tries to make do with his low salary to provide for his family – his wife and two children, with ages seven and five. A day before Labor Day, his wife Risa left to work as a domestic helper in Singapore. “She was forced to because we could no longer stretch my salary to cover for our needs,” he said.

For nearly 15 years, Balasabas had worked for many companies as a contractual worker. He first worked as a gasoline boy and then he worked in different factories, from making chocolates to producing carton boxes. Balasabas is just one among the millions of workers without security of tenure.

Nichard Quetoras, 27, worked as a checker for Pambato Cargo Forwarders Company for just nine months. Although he applied for the job at the company, Quetoras was hired as a contractual worker by an agency.

Workers of the Pambato Cargo Forwarders Company join the Labor Day rally. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/
Workers of the Pambato Cargo Forwarders Company join the Labor Day rally. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/

He had landed a new job in another cargo company. Still, he is a contractual worker. After five months, he would have to look for another job.

“I do not know if I would be a contractual worker until I die,” he retorted.

Different forms of contractualization

There are many forms of contractualization in different industries. Foremost is through agency-hiring.

Roque Isidro, vice president of Pambato Cargo Forwarders Union, said the management began hiring contractual workers through agencies in 2010.

Isidro said there are at least three agencies that provide manpower to the company.

“When a worker’s five-month contract lapses, he signs a new contract with the other agency. After that, he will again be hired by the third agency. It’s the same set workers working for three consecutive five-month contracts under different agencies,” Isidro said.

Employees of the Mandarin Hotel call for an end to contractualization. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/
Employees of the Mandarin Hotel call for an end to contractualization. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea/

Isidro said when the union checked the status of the agencies, only one is accredited by the Department of Labor and Employment. The other two, he said, are “colorum” or operating without license.

Isidro said the company also hires workers who are considered “confidential employees.” They are hired as team leaders, lead coordinators, field coordinators, booking officers, positions that, according to Isidro, used to be regular positions.

“They are made to sign a contract which states that they are waiving their right to benefits for a period of five years,” Isidro said.

There are also workers who are “seasonal,” or those who are on call by the management. In the hotel and restaurant industry, the so-called seasonal workers are also “in.”

Arnold Castro, president of the Manila Mandarin Employees Union, said at least 100 workers of the company are seasonal. Most of them serve as waiters and waitresses in the hotel. There are also those who are hired for five months in the housekeeping department.

Castro said the company also exploits on-the-job student-trainees to maximize profits. All-year round, Castro said, the company accepts more than a hundred trainees who do not receive any pay. “They even pay for their food,” the union leader said.

Castro said in other big hotels, such as Shangri-La Hotel and New World, all workers are contractuals.

The same trend is happening in the banking industry, with the approval of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Resty Figueroa, former president and now assistant secretary of the Planters Development Bank Employees Union, said the BSP memorandum circular 268 provides license to banks to outsource essential and vital positions.

Together with unions of other big banks, Figueroa said they formed the Banking and Financial Union Against BSP 268 (BFU vs 268) to campaign for the junking of the said policy.

Contractual workers receive low pay, usually the minimum wage and limited benefits, if any.

Weakening the unions

Leaders of unions from various industries deem that contractualization weakens their unions. “Contractualization is a direct attack against us, workers,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa, Castro and Isidro all complained of a decrease in union membership. “If our co-workers resign or retire from work, they are replaced by contractual employees,” Figueroa said.

“We are threatened,” Castro said. “If this continues, what will happen to the next generation of workers? They would have no union if all of them are contractual workers.”

Isidro said their union is questioning the practice of contractualization because it is a scheme to attack their union. “Supposedly, workers who have worked for more than six months should be eligible to become union members,” Isidro said. “Because the management cannot abolish the union, it resorted to a scheme to decrease its members.”

Fighting contractualization

“We should fight contractualization,” Castro said.

“Contractual workers have no bargaining power,” he said. “They are denied of their rights to benefits.”

Meanwhile, Figueroa said under the Aquino administration, the situation of workers has become worse. “Thousands of employees in the banking industry have been retrenched in recent years,” he said.

“Workers must have security of tenure, Isidro said.

These are the exact sentiments of contractual workers Balasabas and Quetoras.

Balasabas said he attended the Labor Day rally because he wanted to learn more about the workers’ struggle in the country. “I understood it better because I am also experiencing it first hand,” he said.

For his part, Quetoras said he only wants a permanent job. “When I grow old, who else would hire me?” he asked.

Both called on the Aquino administration to junk contractualization.

“This rally made me understand the importance of workers in the country’s development yet their efforts are hardly recognized,” Balasabas said. (

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