“It [contractualization] is an alarming business practice: workers both in public and private sectors are forced to work for wages below the meagre minimum wage, with no benefits, no job security and under poor health and safety work conditions.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — In one of the activities marking the 40th day since 72 workers died in Kentex factory fire at Valenzuela, workers groups picketed in front of the Labor Department’s national headquarters in Intramuros this Thursday June 25 to demand a meaningful response to the tragedy from the government. Carrying a symbolical coffin of the dead workers, members of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and a broad alliance of public and private sector employees under the All Workers’ Unity (AWU) demanded action against the labor department’s policies for contractualization.
The KMU said the Department of Labor and Employment Order No. 18-A Series of 2011, which is the current set of guidelines governing contractual employment, should be junked over what happened in Kentex.
“Kentex shows that the distinction made by the law between illegal ‘labor-only contracting’ and legal ‘job contracting’ is an illusory one. All forms of contractualization should be banned and the first step should be to junk DO 18-A Series of 2011,” explained Lito Ustarez, KMU vice-chairperson.
Dangers of being permanent contractual, non-regular workers
Some people have expressed concern over why labor groups bring the issue of Kentex fire deaths to the issue of worsening contractualization. Some readers of Bulatlat.com have also commented that the Kentex victims’ supporters should focus instead on occupational health and safety and fire safety requirements.
But based on discussions shared by various workers, being a contractual or permanent non-contractual does have a bearing on how much the workers are forced to bear silently on the job.
Ustarez said contractual workers suffer violations of their basic workers’ rights – their rights to a living wage, legally-mandated benefits and job security, and their right to form a union and collectively bargain.
Deprived of job security and an association, a worker has little to no venue for redress. Ustarez stressed the importance of enjoying those rights for the workers to be empowered in and out of their workplace.
Most of the workers who perished in Kentex factory fire were serial contractuals of Kentex. As such, they almost seem like second class citizens whose names and number cannot even be recalled by the management of Kentex Manufacturing Corp. after the fire.
“Kentex is just one in the long list of companies implementing anti-worker policies such as contractualization,” said Rea Alegre, All Workers’ Unity Spokesperson. At the picket in front of Labor Department, she said the tragedy of contractualization has began even before the Kentex factory fire.
“It is an alarming business practice: workers both in public and private sectors are forced to work for wages below the meagre minimum wage, with no benefits, no job security and under poor health and safety work conditions,”Alegre said.
AWU and KMU were joined in the picket by “live examples” of contractualization as the government’s national policy.
Striking workers of Lucio Tan-owned Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao Laguna picketed the Labor Department also on Thursday to demand for the just resolution of their case — they are pressing for their regularization on the job, directly under Tanduay where they have worked for five to eight years now.
On May 5, the labor department in Southern Tagalog issued the result of its inspection in Tanduay Distillers Inc. It revealed that the company and the two service cooperatives supplying it with workers are doing illegal labor-only contracting. This would have been followed immediately by a resolution, but TUDLA, the association of Tanduay workers leading their picket in Cabuyao, said the Labor Department will issue its resolution on June 28 or 29.
Meanwhile, the workers suffer harassment at their picketline in Cabuyao.
In a separate statement, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights said that apart from violations of rights and brutal force used against Tanduay workers, they find it alarming that government and military officials are involved in the contractualization scheme and violence.
Right after the workers launched their strike, Tanduay Distillers, Inc reportedly hired a new security agency, Sigasig Security Services Inc. (Sigasig), owned by Retired Lt. General Noel Abrigo Covalles, a former commanding officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for combat operations in Maguindanao.
Aside from the Tanduay workers, other longtime contractual workers from Southern Tagalog joined the protest.
In Mindanao, the longtime banana workers of Japanese fruit giant Sumifru also have a long-standing case for their regularization as workers who should be directly under the company. Their case has reached the Supreme Court.
According to independent research group Ibon foundation, the number of contractual or part-time workers grew to 90 percent in 2014. It said most of these jobs are sugar-coated with the following labels: volunteers, consultant, trainees, casuals, job order, sub contracted.
In Tanduay Distillers Inc, only 40 workers are regular, almost 400 are longtime contractuals.
No window dressing contractualization
At their picket in front of the Department of Labor and Employment, KMU’s Ustarez reiterated their group’s criticisms of House Bill 573 or the so-called “Security of Tenure Bill” at the House of Representatives filed by Akbayan Partylist Reps. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez. Contrary to its title, it will not give workers security of tenure, Ustarez said, saying it seeks only to transform the government’s previous department order on contractualization into a law.
In fact, added Ustarez, in the bill’s explanatory note, it said it “reflects” the content of DO 18 Series of 2002, which the current DO 18-A Series of 2011 has already replaced and claims to have improved on. He also noted that the bill considers subcontracting “a valid business practice” which must only be balanced with “the need to protect workers from insecure employment conditions” and it sets a 20 percent cap on contractual employees in a business.