The Congress-approved Senate version does not prohibit fixed-term and multi-layered contracting as demanded by workers. Its provision on penalties and fines on employers and agencies engaged in illegal labor-only contracting is weak.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Various labor organizations, except the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), have expressed dissatisfaction with the Congress-approved Security of Tenure Bill passed a few days before the 17th Congress adjourns.All the bill awaits now is President Duterte’ signature for it to become a law.
As ending Endo is a trending campaign promise that helped Duterte secure popularity and votes in 2016, he has been asked by labor groups time and again to produce results.Endo is end of contract or the practice in which employers scrimp on wages and benefits by shuffling workers with work contracts for less than six months.
Duterte promised to end Endo in months. He delayed delivering on it by first requiring the labor groups, through Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, to unite and craft their proposed anti-endo policies and mechanisms.But Bello also took proposals from employers’ groups. He came up with Labor Department Order 174 that the labor groups rejected, saying it favored the employers more and merely “improved” the ways in which contractualization could continue.
On Labor Day 2018, Duterte signed the Executive Order (EO) 51 but labor groups, again, found that it would not end Endo because it’s still premised on the same stumbling block embodied in DO 174: it is not prohibiting but still allowing contractualization.
Labor groups Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino said the president, if he had really wanted it, is empowered by Labor Code to end Endo. The same power he and his alter ego, the Labor Secretary, uses to issue oepartment Orders regulating contractualization can just as well be used to ban it. Duterte passed the ball instead to Congress saying that prohibiting Endo requires legislation.
With the Security of Tenure Law, “policies that perpetuate employment through manpower agencies are becoming a full-fledged law,” said Jerome Adonis, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Labor’s consistently unwanted third party
In all the incarnations of “end-endo” issued by the Labor Department and now by Congress, job contracting through third party agencies is allowed. It brings a wedge between employer-employee relationship that’s at the root of the workers’ complaint about contractualization. Shifting them to manpower agencies who act as their “employer,” they may work for the country’ biggest, most profitable employers for years but they are prevented from bargaining with this employer for improved benefits and retirement.
With such an arrangement, shipyard workers, salesladies, factory workers can die at the workplace and the business owner can still shirk responsibility over them.
Through the years, labor groups note that contractualization policies only changed rules or parameters but allowed the game of contractualization to continue, for example by adopting or revising licensing and other regulatory requirements. All these are easily circumvented by both agencies and employers, Adonis of KMU said.
The Congress-approved Senate version does not prohibit fixed-term and multi-layered contracting as demanded by workers. Adonis of KMU said its provision on penalties and fines on employers and agencies engaged in illegal labor-only contracting is weak. Why so? It did not categorically state the penalties for erring agencies and employers, thus providing room for circumvention, Adonis explained.
Section 3 and other provisions of the bill still allow outsourcing, contracting and subcontracting as a legitimate labor practice and gives DOLE power to regulate contractualization, said the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER).
Leody de Guzman of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino said “it is far from labor’s demand to abolish trilateral work arrangements, which is the basis for the anti-worker scheme of contractualization.”
New parameters to allow contractualization
“We hate to say it but the Security of Tenure bill will not prohibit contractualization,” Gabriela Women Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement. She was disappointed she lost the chance to try to improve the bill with the abrupt cancellation of the bicameral conference.
The SoT Bill legalizes contractualization by setting parameters for the licensing of contractors based on revised criteria, which is whether the job or service is ‘directly related to the principal business’ instead of the ‘usually necessary or desirable’ criteria in the Labor Code, Brosas said.
In effect the SoT law revises a crucial part of the Labor Code. Adopting such a parameter “provides big capitalists a huge elbow room to evade regularization of workers by using the core and non-core alibi,” Gabriela said.
“A huge mall chain like SM can conveniently say that it does not employ the vast swathe of contractual workers precisely because its principal business is commercial space rental, not the actual merchandising and selling of products,” Brosas explained.
Only businesses gain from ‘flexible’ labor
Behind the government and employers’ reasoning for why it keeps on legalizing contractualization even when it promises to stop it is the free market argument. The EILER said that the business groups’ free market argument relies on labor flexibilization and deregulation to reap higher profits from contractual workers. It means making it easy to hire and fire workers for quick adjustments to the vagaries of the economy.
“This means guaranteeing that Filipino workers are paid the lowest minimum wages without additional benefits and that they work for longest hours possible. It’s also a direct attack to freedom of association, as contractual workers are prohibited from forming or joining unions,” said Rochelle Porras, EILER executive director.
Earlier, employers’ groups Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop) and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) defended contractualization, but contrary to their claims, said Porras, promoting decent, regular jobs will actually be beneficial for businesses and the poor of the country as regular employment provides access to living wages and series of social protection and welfare programs.
Porras described as rubbish the employers’ groups’ excuse that we need to promote contractualization to attract foreign investors. “The truth is they are protecting their primary interest, which is to reap maximum profits from labor contracting.”
Contractial workers can be found in the services sector such as hotels, restaurants, resorts, repair shops, malls, supermarkets, security agencies, offices, transport, and logistics, in agriculture and manufacturing industries. The SoT Law covers workers in the private sector, but contrctualization is also prevalent among the government employees, said the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).
Whether the president signs the SoT Law or not, most of the labor sector is expressing unity at rejecting this version of the SoT bill. Adonis of KMU said they continue to call for the passage of a genuine Security of Tenure Law that will prohibit job contracting through third party agencies, long an instrument of employers in evading the regularization of their workers.