It would be more beneficial not just for workers but also for the entire economy if it would prohibit contractualization.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — After repeatedly hearing Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III extolling the employers’ proposals on contractualization, some members and allies of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) trooped to the department’s headquarters in protest last Monday, December 5.
They were enraged because, according to them, Bello’s announcement contradicted what President Duterte promised the nation when he wooed them for their votes last May. And, it also contradicted, they said, the positions of labor organizations’ representatives in the Labor Dialogue and Labor Summit held last October.
Irreconcilable differences on contractualization policy
In light of President Duterte’s marching orders to end contractualization, the employers’ groups conferred and drafted a proposal as soon as he took power. They then submitted it to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). From it the department got the idea of asking the labor sector for their “unified” proposal against contractualization.
For years, the labor groups have already shown an unwritten but unified position against contractualization. “When we say ‘Junk Contractualization!’ we mean repealing laws and policies that have legalized the violations of workers’ rights be it through labor-only or through job contracting,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of KMU.
In the labor dialogue and summit held last October, the labor sector expressed its unified position and recommendation to junk all forms of contractualization, Labog said. To effect that, the labor groups proposed junking DO 18-A and amending the articles 106-109 of the labor code. The Duterte government could also hasten the enactment of Anakpawis Partylist’s Regular Employment Bill, the workers suggested.
But far from pursuing any of that, the labor department “inserted” into the labor sector’s summit output the proposals of the employers’ groups, the KMU leaders said during their protest.
The “insertion” is probably an implementation of Labor Sec. Bello’s earlier pronouncements on combining the proposals of labor sector and employers. Unfortunately, blending into the “new” policy the old DO 18-A means it is still a policy of contractualization of labor, the unionists said.
“Bello did not come from the poor and that’s why he can’t understand the danger and hunger he was bringing on to workers by allowing them to remain as contractuals,” said former Kentex Manufacturing Corp’s worker, Myrna Pisaw during the protest action.
An employers’ proposal at the core
Dubbed by its proponents as supposedly a “win-win” proposal, the new contractualization policy being vetted by Bello has actually been rejected twice by the labor sector – during the Labor Dialogue and during the Labor Summit this October.
What the DOLE and the employers are marketing as “win-win” for workers is the policy reflecting the workers’ demand of being regularized after they have successfully passed the probationary or legal trial period on the job. But to workers, it is rendered meaningless by the fact that in the same policy, they are still under their respective manpower agencies, cooperatives or third-party service provider.
“What happens if that agency’s contract to supply labor is terminated by the principal? The workers would still easily lose their job.” Roger Soluta, KMU vice-chairperson, said in Filipino during their protest action in front of the Labor department.
If jobs remain insecure, the KMU leader said it means that contractualization is not being stopped as promised by the government-vetted ‘new’ contractualization policy.
Also, “When contracts end or the employers shut down their business under today’s contractualization, the workers lose their job and they get no separation pay. That will still be the case under the so-called ‘win-win’ proposal of employers groups and the Labor department,” said Rey Sumayo, leader of National Federation of Workers’ Union.
He found it unlikely the workers will gain much from the so-called win-win policy boasts about allowing the workers to form unions.
“With whom will the contractual workers’ union negotiate for adjusted wages? With their contractor employer? They won’t get much, if anything, from them,” said Sumayo. The profits from the workers’ labor are still with the principals, not with the middlemen or third party service providers, he added. The workers’ union would do better to negotiate with the principals, who are their actual employers. In fact, the government needs only to remove the middlemen (labor agencies) and the workers’ wages would immediately adjust upward, some workers who joined the protest told Bulatlat.
Under contractualization, the workers’ wages and benefits are shrunk two ways: one, the labor agencies or cooperatives withhold a portion of their wages as agency fees, etc.; two, the contractuals, by being contractuals, have little recourse to ask the principals, the actual employers who profit from their labor, for better wages and labor condition.
Most of the country’s labor groups regardless of their political leanings have been one in perceiving this problem. To end it, they are demanding the removal of the legal basis of contractualization. To them, this is where Labor Sec. Bello is making a mistake — or showing his true colors — if Bello would only rehash the old contractualization policies.
In the labor department’s so-called win-win contractualization policy, the workers are also supposed to enjoy the benefits of the regular workers and these include unionizing and negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.
But the protesting workers said that in real life, very few if any can enjoy this. “The contracting agencies get their profit only by deducting money from the contractual workers’ wages. How can the contractuals negotiate wage hike with that?” Asked Sumayo.
Worse, based on experience, the KMU reminded the Labor department there are firms that terminated their contract with the service provider once they learned the workers have formed a union.
To the employers’ claims that the labor agencies create jobs, “Wake up! It is the workers who create jobs,” said Roger Soluta, vice chairperson of KMU. He said it is the workers who create profits both for the contractors and their principals.
Soluta reiterated that it would be more beneficial not just for workers but also for the entire economy if the government prohibits contractualization. This way, he explained, the workers have a chance to really form unions, to negotiate with employers, and enjoy at least a bit more share in the huge profits they are producing.
“The sides who stand to reap the promised ‘win-win’ are that of employers and labor agencies,” Soluta said. For this reason, he said workers would never ever accept the said new contractualization policy.
Workers Sing ‘Bello, Bello Manloloko’ (liar)
If during Bello’s first few weeks in position the labor sector has welcomed him, these days the labor sector is calling him a liar or a cheat.
“It appears that Bello has only been searching for ways to deceive the workers. He wanted us to believe the policy he is promoting with the employers’ groups will address the workers’ demands. In reality, it won’t,” Rey Sumayo of NFWU (National Federation of Workers’ Union) said at the workers’ protest.
“Win-win” as a chronically broken promise between employer and labor is not new. Seventy-year-old Nehemia Marquez said he had heard that before. He is the auditor of Ilaw-Buklod ng Manggagawa (IBM).
Change is definitely not coming this way, he said. “If you will not repeal the repressive decrees, laws, and policies; if you will only come out with a ‘new’ policy but the old, rotten core remains; then you’re not changing anything,” said the old labor leader. He and the other labor leaders warned President Duterte will face more workers’ protest if he did not follow through on his campaign promise of ending contractualization.
The protesters vowed more and bigger protests against the Department of Labor and Employment if they “continue to expose themselves as no different from previous pro-capitalist and anti-worker administrations.”