Intensifying contractualization and implementing the two-tier wage system are the two main schemes being availed by the government and employers today to press or cut down wages. – Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On May 1 Labor Day, the SM chain of malls collaborated with the Department of Labor and Employment to offer what was dubbed as the biggest Job Fair. Mostly unemployed people from all ages flocked to the malls. The queue at the job fair’s entrance at SM Manila branch snaked down all the way to the floor below. Labor Day was turned into the jobless persons’ day, a group of friends joining the queue was overheard as saying to each other.
At a program marking Labor Day in Liwasang Bonifacio, across the mall with the snaking line to the Job Fair, various groups decried the worsening unemployment and lack of decent jobs in the country. Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of youth group Anakbayan, assailed President Aquino for the increase in joblessness and called on Aquino to stop “publicity job fair stunts to cover up for his incompetence.”
“BS Aquino’s administration has failed to address the rising unemployment; instead, the administration has continued its anti-worker, pro-ruling class policies,” Crisostomo said.
Instead of advocating for national industrialization to provide more jobs and decent wages, “the Aquino government throws our country into the hands of foreign and local capitalists through policies that are in favour of them and not of the peoples’ interests,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela. These policies include implementation of various government support to contractualization schemes and cheapening workers wages.
Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said in a speech at Liwasang Bonifacio that intensifying contractualization and implementing the two-tier wage system are the two main schemes being availed by the government and employers today to press or cut down wages.
ENDO, ENDO forever?
With rising unemployment, more and more people seem to be ending up in jobs that pay lower wages and give scant benefits nor prospects, even if they have taken pains to get an education. Patricia and Camille, for example, both 22 years old, are contractual workers at SMT Philippines Inc., an electronics locator in a special export processing zone in Laguna. They are graduates of Information Technology and Business Administration, respectively. But Patricia told Bulatlat.com it is very difficult to find a job where she could become a regular employee. (She requested not to reveal her real and full name for fear of company reprisal.)
Since she graduated, Patricia immediately found a job, but it was the sort that becomes ENDO after five months, and then again after another five months. Endo means ‘end of contract.’ The Philippine Labor Code provides that employees working for six months should become regular in status; thus, companies hire workers for five months then remove them to avoid having to regularize them. The term Endo became widely known due to this prevalent practice of companies ending contracts of employment after five months, so workers go from one Endo to another. Now ENDO (with a red X superimposed on the letter O) is being used as a tagline in the campaign against contractualization.
Patricia has worked for two years now in two different companies. In SMT, she has been working for a year now, with two Endos. She works together with the regular workers in the same line, performing the same job.
She estimates that two of every three workers in SMT are contractuals (300 from their agency, 300 more from another agency, and 300 directly-hired regular workers).
Patricia joined, with friend Camille, the group “Sama Ako,” or Samahan ng Manggagawang Kontraktwal. She said she and her friend have tried hard to search for jobs where they could become regular eventually, but they concluded that there is no such thing anymore in Laguna.
She shared that they have the same experience as other contractuals: “Our wage is not enough even if we work 12 hours every day. Sometimes, we could not go to work anymore because we have no more allowance.”
Patricia and Camille joined the May 1 rallyists denouncing the increasingly more prevalent system of contractualization.
Institutionalizing contract-based work, without cutoff but without regularization
From drug and food giant company Wyeth, nearly 300 contractual workers joined the May 1 protests, and they were also protesting the spreading ENDO practice. Thirty-seven year old Chat handles equipment, product cleanup and assembly at Wyeth’s plant in Laguna. He works side by side with regular workers, but he is officially not employed by Wyeth but by a labor cooperative.
Like the young graduates of SMT, the contractual worker Chat receives only the minimum wage rate, despite having worked in the same company for 11 years now. He told Bulatlat.com that they receive a yearly renewed contract to work.
Another Wyeth contractual worker, Edwin, 52, had worked as a contractual for years at the Ginebra San Miguel plant in Canlubang before transferring to Wyeth. He has been working with Wyeth for eight years now.
The contractual workers said their jobs are part of the company’s regular jobs. Whereas before they were just assisting, they are now performing almost wholly the jobs that used to be handled by regular workers. Of the 1,000 plus workforce in the Wyeth manufacturing plant in Laguna, they estimated that more than 40 percent are contractuals.
Over at the Asahi Glass company in Manila, meanwhile, the majority or about 1,200 of the 1,500 plus workforce are now contractuals, no thanks to the company’s aggressive retire-rehire scheme in which they lured ageing regular workers to avail of retirement packages and then start working again, as if they were on day 1 at the job. The process took years before the union became outnumbered by contractuals.
Now, the union is striving to fight for the regularization of the longtime employed contractuals. A contractual worker, who asked not to be named, told Bulatlat.com that he has been working in Asahi for eight years now, but his employer is listed not as Asahi but as a labor cooperative. He receives the minimum wage rate. He said they used to be given another contract each time it was renewed, but since three years ago, they just continued reporting for work without cutoff and without contract.
Like in the case of SMT, Wyeth and others, there are other agencies supplying manpower to Asahi. He said most of the other contractuals like him have been working there for more than 10 years now, also “without cutoff” or interruption as if there was no ENDO, except that they do not become Asahi’s regular employees.
In the hotel industry where the KMU chairman Elmer Labog came from, contractualization has also been eroding union membership and benefits.
Arnold Castro, president of Manila Mandarin Employees’ Union, told Bulatlat.com that even if they have been resisting contractualization – majority of the hotel’s 400 workforce are still regulars – their jobs are being threatened as the hotel’s management has been telling them that the hotel’s lease contract with the Ayala’s is under negotiation.
Most of them have been with Mandarin, working as room boys, waiters, etc., for 15 years or more. While praying that their company’s lease negotiation would yield good prospects for their jobs, Castro expressed worries over the inroads of contractualization in the entire hotel industry.
Citing prime hotels in the Makati Business District, like Shangri-La and New World, for example, he said most workers there are ‘casuals.’
At the five-star Intercon hotel, he said, there are less than 100 union members now, out of the former 300-plus. At Manila Peninunsula, there are just 400 union members now out of what used to be 600.
What happened to the other unionists? Castro said they were encouraged by the company to avail of early retirement programs. To replace those who retired, the hotels hired contractuals.
These are just some of the cases of the contractualization of what used to be regular jobs. The same is true for the telecommunications and banking industries, and worse, it seemed, for the restaurant and shoes and apparel industries too. Regular employees are entitled to security of tenure and certain benefits and retirement packages, but contractuals are not.
Among the country’s youth, the intensifying contractualization is hardly the awaited reward for years of expensive and difficult education. Yet, an estimated majority of today’s employed is said to be in non-regular jobs.
Crisostomo of Anakbayan condemns contractualization as “an evil process that pushes down wages and imposes slave labor on young people.” Contractual workers all over the Philippines get lower wages, less, if any, benefits, and are reportedly prohibited from forming or joining unions. But a number of them are now joining Sama Ako and are using the tagline ENDO to demand an end to contractualization itself.
“We call on all of the Filipino youth, especially the workers, to join the struggle of our workers,” Crisostomo said, saying “it is only right to express our outrage and anger towards the anti-people Aquino government.”