The House of Representatives has passed House Bill 6152 this week. It will allow employers to implement four-day or five-day workweek with workers still clocking in a total 48 hours of work per week. This would mean 9.6 hours to 12 work hours per day, without overtime pay.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In nearly 200 interviews with workers from 49 large establishments in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and a group of graduating sociology students observed a trend that daily overtime work is more the norm than the exception in their workplaces. It is so prevalent it is considered as “normal” day-to-day practice among workers.
Workers interviewed came from export-oriented companies in economic zones, in food and beverage companies, electronics firms, garments, among others, as they came out of the workplace after a long day of work.
Most workers say they routinely work overtime for two to four hours. They are at work daily for 10 to 12 or more hours per day.
Are they forced into working overtime? Majority of the workers interviewed appeared surprised to be even asked that question or to think they can freely consider to NOT work overtime, the student researchers noted. To workers, they said, overtime is already a regular part of working day. Some said if they wanted out (of overtime), they will have to first tell their superiors, or get a permission.
It is not as if the workers wanted to work long hours everyday – they just value the additional hours’ wages, said Daisy Arago, executive director of CTUHR. She noted that the prevailing low wages are mainly what’s pushing the workers to work longer and harder. Their research shows that workers “like” the overtime work for the increase it brings to their pay. In firms observing labor laws, overtime work is paid 25 percent higher than regular workhours.
The workers interviewed admitted that a long working day means less time for family, housework, rest, leisure and social life. Those aged 30 or above are more conscious of the loss in time for other life concerns. But for the chance to increase their pay, the workers especially those under 30s and single are more optimistic in telling the student interviewers that they remain alert and less prone to accidents despite the long work hours. Those over 30 years old are not as optimistic in saying that, the sociology students observed.
There had been a time in the labor movement in the Philippines when workers can hope to increase their income by banding together and demanding wage hikes, without necessarily increasing their work load or work hours. The workers have previously won the right to work and be paid at least the minimum wage for an 8-hour labor day. But nowadays, with unions shrunk to less than ten percent of the employed and the minimum wage a very variable amount per region and municipality, the workers especially the younger set appeared bent to just swallow the prevailing condition as is.
And now, even that additional pay by way of prolonging their work hours is at risk.
New normal sought by Congress: No more overtime pay, no more 8-hour labor law
If long working days are already “normal” and prevalent in certain big establishments in Metro Manila, why is Congress still rushing to enact a law allowing for routine long working hours? This week, workers and women’s groups slammed what they call as the railroading of a proposed law allowing for a compressed work week. The House of Representatives has passed this week House Bill 6152 which seeks to allow employers to implement four-day or five-day workweek with workers still clocking in a total 48 hours of work per week. This would mean 9.6 hours to 12 work hours per day, without overtime pay.
Gabriela Women Rep. Emmi de Jesus calls the proposed law a direct attack on wage and labor standards already set forth in the Labor Code.
Under HB 6152 millions of workers will continue to face longer shifts and rising overtime hours without overtime pay.
This means that the likes of the workers interviewed by CTUHR‘s senior sociology students – those routinely working 4-6 hours of overtime per day, stand to lose the additional overtime pay.
As one of the interviewers remarked during the collation of their interviews, “it means losing overtime pay for up to 16 hours per week.”
In other words, the workers may gain an additional day free, but he or she will have less money for food and basic items.
In a separate statement, the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research said the bill “railroaded” in Congress would explicitly allow employers to adopt schemes where the normal work week is reduced but 48 hours is still the normal total work hours per week.
“Millions of workers will continue to face longer shifts and rising overtime hours without overtime pay,” said Rochelle Porras, EILER executive director.
Institutionalizing a DOLE order released in crisis mode
In 2009 amid a global economic crunch, the Department of Labor and Employment came out with an order promoting what it dubbed as compressed work week, a move it justified as a way of helping companies in the country to maintain competitiveness.
It is the same setup which the lawmakers are seeking to institutionalize now into law. But since 2009 the labor groups have expressed concerns with the DOLE order allowing “compressed work week” and its blithe permission for companies to prolong working day.
In big, profitable companies such as the PLDT, the compressed work week helped it to cut labor costs and introduce more contractuals.
The company steadily reduced the payment for overtime work through the implementation of “offsetting.” The workers were given a day off instead of additional wages for hours worked in excess of regular eight hours. Meanwhile, the company employed more and more contractuals taking the regular workers’ jobs.
The loss of overtime resulted in decreased take home pay for thousands of workers who relied on overtime work to pay company loans. Their predicament made the yearly company offering of early retirement packages more enticing. This, in turn, further reduced the cost of labor in companies such as the PLDT as regular workers are replaced with lower paid contractual workers.
According to EILER, the passage of the bill institutionalizing compressed work week “further exposes that President Duterte, his economic managers and allies, maintain the anti-worker policies of previous administrations.”
The group said the 10-point Socioeconomic Agenda, Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, and AmBisyon Natin 2040 adopted by the Duterte administration are favorable to foreign investors. They added that it would further cheapen the labor cost in the country.
Instead of working to railroad the passing of proposals like compressed workweek, the labor NGOs, and labor groups urged the Congress and Senate to prioritize bills focusing on strengthening the constitutional rights of workers. These include bills such as House Bill 1045 or the Regular Employment Bill and Senate Bill 1317 or the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act.
They also reiterated calls to implement a national minimum wage. At the same time, they asked for the scrapping of any department order allowing contractual work arrangements.
To the graduating sociologists who interviewed workers on their overtime, the research, they said, opened their eyes to the high costs of workers’ “isolation.”
“It’s as if they just live to get up for work, work, work,” said one of the students. There is hardly time for other matters that make life worth living, said another.
“It is not what I dreamed of doing,” said one of the researchers. They also noted that the workers’ bodies showed the ill effects of too much work and less time rest and recreation. “They don’t look well-fed or rested. They look tired and rushed off their feet.”