“There must be no distinction between Labor-Only Contracting and Job Contracting. Both must be declared illegal.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Workers dared hope that their desire and struggle for regular jobs, and their efforts to form or maintain unions against retrenchments and contractualization of regular jobs, would finally be resolved when they found a seeming ally in President Duterte. But until now, they are told to still wait some more as the labor department deliberates on how to tackle contractualization.
In Laguna, long-time contractual workers from Lucio Tan’s Tanduay Distillers are still in a picket protest for regular jobs. The DOLE has already repeatedly ruled that they should be regularized and absorbed by Tanduay after its inspection revealed that there is indeed an illegal labor-only contracting happening in Tanduay. But until now, most of the workers in Tanduay are still contractual, and the union that demanded the labor inspection and their regularization last year is still on strike and periodically being harassed by Tanduay guards.
In Negros, more than a hundred sugar mill stevedores are still in their already four-year picket protest. Their case traces its roots to their demand for regularization on the job. By now, some of them have tried to move on to similar jobs in other sugar mills, but they are still lower-paid contractuals.
In Metro Manila, the Japanese-owned glass factory AGC Flat Glass (formerly Republic Asahi Glass) has been retrenching regular workers and replacing them with contractuals under agencies. On top of the already more than 500 contractuals in its 700 workforce last year, it retrenched 81 more by January this year as the union struggled to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. One of the union demands was to include as regulars the longtime contractuals workers.
Workers in other blue-chip companies, from Philippine Airlines to Philippine Long Distance Company, to big banks and other “small” factories with over a hundred contractuals, still decry the continuing contractualization in their midst. In cases like theirs, the union shrinks and weakens or is eventually dissolved altogether.
These, as we write, are just some examples of fierce shifts in employment setups continuing to happen across establishments in the Philippines today.
Whatever happened to the much-applauded promise of ending contractualization? Before and after being sworn into office, President Duterte promised to end it. As of August this year, reports said he vowed to maintain a ‘zero tolerance’ of companies who are still practicing contractualization. He warned companies not to wait for labor inspectors and to pay the workers accordingly.
But in this Monday’s labor summit called by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the workers pointed to how the eight-point agenda presented by the department seems to leave out the task of ending contractualization.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had scheduled this Labor Summit at the conclusion of a Labor Dialogue on October 3. He wanted a “unified position” from the labor sector on how to tackle contractualization, even though most of the participating labor representatives had already expressed the desire to end contractualization, or to prohibit all or most forms of contractualization. This Monday, another participant pointed out that at the Labor Dialogue, the unionists were already “95-percent united” at ending contractualization.
After this Monday’s summit workshop, the labor sector again demonstrated a consensus toward ending contractualization.
So where is the holdup? The unionists said, during the open forum in the Labor Summit,that the wrongs that have been done to workers from (Cory) Aquino to (Noynoy) Aquino administrations, can be corrected now. “As the saying goes: ‘What are we in power for’? DOLE can change the policies,” said a unionist, referring to DOLE orders that allowed the spread of contractualization even of regular jobs.
Ending contractualization in DOLE’s court
To workers, President Duterte has already issued his marching orders, and the Department of Labor and Employment should now just implement it.
“What is the DOLE doing? Why is the Department of Trade and Industry presenting a supposed ‘win-win’ solution but as to the DOLE … what has it done?” a labor representative asked during the summit.
Some questioned why the DOLE even has to call for a Labor Summit when President Duterte’s order is already clear: end contractualization.
In a protest held outside the Labor Summit’s venue, leaders of various labor unions, people’s organizations and pro-labor institutions said the administration’s economic managers are directly defying the president’s assertions. They rejected the Duterte administration’s 10-point Socio-Economic agenda for being “detrimental” to workers.
“Its main thrust is to assure superprofits for foreign and local big capitalists by undermining Filipino workers’ rights to regular jobs and living wages,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno.
Labog said the administration’s economic agenda beclouds President Duterte’s promise of change. “It merely continues the previous administration’s framework of promoting cheap, contractual and docile labor to guarantee the profits of foreign and local big businesses.”
What DOLE can do, according to workers
The workers’ asked the DOLE to do away with service providers (labor agencies or cooperatives hiring out workers to various principals).
“There must be no distinction between Labor-Only Contracting and Job Contracting. Both must be declared illegal,” said Labog. He stressed that they have observed that the DOLE has been making distinctions between legal or illegal contractualization schemes, and it even narrows the issue of contractualization to just the issue of ENDO (end of contract).
“Contractualization, whether employed in legal or illegal schemes, subject workers to worst forms of labor exploitation,” Labog said.
Other labor leaders said the same, asking the Labor department to replace the DO-18-A that sets parameters for lawful contractualization with another order that would “strictly prohibit contractualization.”
Tracing the first DOLE orders that gave distinction to what were legal or illegal contractualization, a labor leader recalled that employers had promised 20-plus years ago that it was for increasing competitiveness.
“They said there will be no abuse. But it’s hard to believe employers, most of them are liars,” said Daniel Edralin of Alliance of Progressive Labor.
The DOLE’s 8-point agenda included one in which a balance is to be sought between “partners,” the workers to the left of the government, and the employers to its right. “Competitiveness of businesses” is again mentioned by the DOLE.
Another unionist who spoke at the Labor Summit asked the labor department to craft a procedure at regularizing workers in relation to findings of illegal labor-only contracting.
“We have lots of DOLE inspection reports but until now the workers still await regularization,” a labor representative said during the summit.
Workers from Southern Tagalog bring numerous examples of such findings. Until today, they say that the order for regularization of workers remains only on paper. They have pressured the DOLE through mass actions to inspect their company. In Lucio Tan’s Tanduay Distillers, for example, where 80 percent to 90 percent of the workforce are contractuals under agencies doing business with the Lucio Tan Group, the DOLE offices have repeatedly ruled that the workers should have been regular on the job. But until now, the workers are still in picketing near the Tanduay Laguna plant in Cabuyao. Some struggle to survive but the jobs available are also contractual jobs.
The Labor Summit ended with labor participants’ consensus against contractualization, and against the many ways in which the workers’ ability to uphold their rights is weakened. Bureau of Labor Relations Director Benjo Benavidez said the workshop output will generate recommendations. Some may need legislative action, like new laws, some may need administrative action from the Office of the (Labor) Secretary or Office of the President or of other constitutional bodies.