“Any policy that does not aim to end all forms of contractualization can never be acceptable to workers.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Department Order (DO) No. 174 issued this week March 16 by the Labor department revealed itself to workers groups as a confirmation of what they had avoided suspecting before: that President Rodrigo Duterte is not about to make good on his campaign promise to end contractualization.
Two days before the Labor department issued the “new” DO, labor groups held pickets outside its headquarters. “We want to see an alternative and not a mere renewal of the current guidelines. We have been consistent with our position because millions of workers seek regular employment,” said Anne Villasica, spokesperson for All Workers Unity, during one of their roving pickets at the Labor department this week.
Workers have said during the dialogues with labor department officials that a regular employment under their true and actual employer, and not under a third party agency, would invalidate the schemes that deny them their legally mandated benefits, job security, and right to organize, form unions and launch strikes.
Since the contractuals’ employment ends after a fixed period, the workers complained that they lose the chance to move up on the job, get pay raises or retirement and separation pay even after having worked for years in the same company. Contractualization also slashes the wages even of regular workers, as their unions and bargaining leverage are shrunk also by contractualization.
Instead of an alternative to past contractualization policies, the labor groups from various political spectrum found the DO 174 a mere rehash of the Aquino government’s contractualization policy.
“If Duterte had been true to his promise of ending contractualization, he would have taken concrete and decisive actions instead of passing the bucket to his ‘inutile labor secretary,’ said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
On Friday, March 17, workers led by national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno trooped to the Department of Labor and Employment central office and held an indignation protest. They marched also to Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola) to hold a program near the gates of Malacañang.
No change in contractualization in DO 174
The DO 174 series of 2017 supersedes DO 18-A series of 2011, but as Rey Cagomoc, a longtime contractual worker, said, the forms of contractualization that the DO 174 prohibits are generally the same with those of DO 18-A.
Youth groups and workers groups opposed the DO 174 citing the following similar grounds:
1. It is a contractualization policy, not a contractualization ban
“The 11 points prohibited by DO 174 are already prohibited by existing laws,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU secretary-general. The biggest example of prohibited is labor-only contracting, but it has continued to be implemented on the ground as evidenced by many workers’ struggles.
Many workers’ associations took pains and succeeded in getting the DOLE to inspect and certify that an illegal Labor-only Contracting was happening in factories owned by big corporations, but until today, the contractual workers there remained contractual or have been terminated for having questioned the employers or formed unions.
Why the change in name of DO 18-A, then? Labog said, the DOLE is only hyping this DO in a bid to cover-up their inutility in heeding workers’ demands, and on top of that, their “connivance with big businesses in promoting and legitimizing contractual employment schemes by upholding ECOP’s ‘win-win’ solution.” The so-called “win-win solution’ has repeatedly been rejected by most labor groups, who renamed it as lose-lose for workers, win-win only for employers.
2. DO 174 shares basic premise with DO 18-A
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the fundamental framework of DO 174 is that contracting should be prohibited, but with exemptions.
This, said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago, is the same premise rejected by workers in Noynoy Aquino’s DO 18-A. Exactly the same, it just distinguishes ‘legitimate’ from ‘non-legitimate’ contractualization, instead of ending the system altogether.
“DOLE’s stand is that some forms of contractualization are legal, but the reality is that when these are implemented, companies violate other laws that supposedly guarantee the basic rights of workers,” said Rey Cagomoc, spokesperson of “Kilos Na Manggagawa,” an association of various workers’ alliances, contractuals’ groups and unions.
“A department order that prohibits labor-only contracting but allows job contracting will send a strong signal to many corporations that they can continue doing their abusive practice because they are protected by DOLE,” said Villasica of All Workers’ Unity. This is because as workers and even unions have experienced in the past, just the process of getting the Labor Department to certify that an illegal labor-only contracting is happening is extremely difficult. Often, the contractuals have long been terminated before or even despite the Labor department’s inspection and report.
In the end, labor leaders doubt if even the supposedly illegal contractualization setups pinpointed by DO 174 would really be put to an end. Labor Sec. Bello himself said there are 800,000 establishments all over the country, and the department only has 500 labor inspectors.
Cagomoc of Kilos Na Manggagawa likens DO 174 to allowing companies to carry a weapon against workers while appeasing the public that carrying a weapon is legal, and that DOLE will monitor its abuse anyway. “Even if DOLE increases its labor inspectors, the government would not be able to control what happens in different workplaces,” he said.
In another statement, Jerome Adonis, secretary general of KMU, also slammed Labor Secretary Bello’s claim that DOLE undersecretary Joel Maglunsod’s approval of the DO 174 is tantamount to the labor sector’s approval of DO 174.
“Any policy that does not aim to end all forms of contractualization can never be acceptable to workers,” said Adonis. The labor leader urged his fellow workers to conduct bigger and more assertive protests against the Duterte administration’s “failed promises, and continued implementation of neoliberal policies of cheap, contractual and docile labor.”