MANILA – Progressive partylist minority stalwarts led by Gabriela Women’s Party filed a bill today seeking to amend the Labor Code. Specifically, they propose to excise from the current labor code an oft-criticized provision that has helped to keep Filipino workers as “permanent contractuals” or non-regular employees.
Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) representatives filed House Bill No. 4396, “An Act Prohibiting Labor-only Contracting and Regulating Job Contracting and Sub-contracting,” to put a stop to labor contractualization.
The bill seeks to strengthen employer-employee relationship – which contractual employment does away with – to make service agencies that recruit contractuals superfluous. Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said the proposed bill seeks to free workers from the stinging pain of being tied to ENDO or End Of contract.
Gabriela deems the practice of contractualization as pernicious, concluding that it has been a means by which employers and investors keep wages low and deny workers the benefits due them. Women workers such as those working as salesladies in big malls and fastfood chains, and those working in garments and electronics exporting companies, comprise some of the thousands of workers who lost their unions, rights and benefits early on to contractualization.
Today, estimates vary but most labor groups are in agreement that contractualization is increasingly becoming more prevalent. In many firms, contractual or non-regular workers outnumbers the regular workers, and the process of contractualization is still continuing as companies forcibly retire its regular workers to replace them with contractual or non-regular workers.
Lito Ustarez, vice-president of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said that as contractual employment legalizes starvation wages, theft of benefits, lack of job security, and violations of workers’ right to form unions, it also, ultimately, violates fundamental workers’ rights.
Bringing back the dignity of employment
“We want to bring back to millions of workers the dignity of regular employment with its attendant living wage, union rights and benefits like maternity leave and health insurance,” de Jesus said as she was leading worker leaders in filing the proposed bill at the Bill and Index Section of the House of Representatives. The bill to eliminate contractual employment was originally filed by Anakpawis Rep. Crispin Beltran.
In time for the bill’s re-filing, workers led by national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno held a picket recently at the gates of the House of Representatives, urging the legislators to immediately pass the bill.
The bill seeks to remove the power being wielded by Labor Secretaries to legalize contractual employment. Under President BS Aquino III, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz issued Department Order 18-A Series of 2011, which legalizes contractualization, according to various labor organizations in the country.
Ilagan countered the government’s justification for promoting contract labor — attracting foreign capital and creating jobs — with hard economic facts. She said: “Contractual employment egged on capitalists to lay off workers more easily and it has resulted in the shameful finding by the International Labor Organization that the Philippines has the highest unemployment rate in all of Southeast Asia.”
Under Aquino, unemployment has worsened, from 4.37 million in 2011 to 4.49 million in 2013, Gabriela Rep. Ilagan said. Job generation also dropped from 1.2 million in 2011 to a mere 317,000 in 2013, she added.
Contractual employment is not only demeaning and costly for the young, underemployed job applicants constantly hunting for jobs. Based on the jobs studies conducted by Gabriela, contractual employment also threatens the life and health of workers.
Ilagan cited as example the workers injured and killed in 2011 while working on the Eton building. They were denied compensation for injuries and death because they were contracted under many layers of job subcontracting, Ilagan said. Other contractual workers whose lives were hardly compensated for despite their dangerous work environment include shipyard workers and those in manufacturing or mixing of drugs and paints.
To stop contractual employment, the newly filed bill aims to strengthen the relationship between the principal employer and employee. This in turn, is expected to make available to workers the wages, benefits and rights at work, which the labor movement has gained through years of hard struggle, but which contractualization is doing away with.
In case the contractor fails to pay wages, the proposed bill provides that the principal is bound to pay the employees directly. The bill also lays down clear security of tenure provisions to prevent employers from terminating employees except for just cause. The bill will also consider as null and void contracts drawn to fix employment durations to violate the bill’s provisions. The bill provides that after six months probationary employment, workers and employees should become regular in his or her employment.
Further contractualization or violation of the Regular Employment bill, once it becomes law, provides for a fine of up to P500,000 or imprisonment of up to two years.
(Photo grabbed from the official Twitter account of Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus )