Contractual labor: A dead end?

Contractuals numbered 445,020 in 2010, usually commissioned for a project that will take them in for a short period of time. But for them, there is neither stability nor security of tenure.

MANILA, Philippines – Imagine a building standing strong for more than two decades suddenly collapsing. Surprising isn’t it?

This is how Eli, 56, described what he felt when told he could not continue working anymore.

A janitor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) since 1987, Eli was suddenly told last February that his services were no longer needed.

This was when manpower contractor Unitrend Agency terminated its contract with PUP because of financial issues. A bidding process was thus initiated by PUP, resulting in the selection of CareBest International Inc as the new contractor.

But the management of CareBest, the university administration, and the janitors failed to agree on terms regarding the job reinstatement of those left behind by Unitrend.

Eh wala na kayo kasi may tauhan na kami (You can’t work here anymore because we already have people to deploy),” they were told.

The janitors demanded 100% absorption by CareBest but were told this was not possible. They have their own formal evaluation process to follow.

Ibig sabihin tanggal na kami? Eh paano ’yung hirap ng serbisyo namin dito? Dekada na kami dito, tapos bigla niyo kaming tatanggalin? (Does this mean we’re fired? How about all our hard work in this job? We’ve been here for decades and then you just suddenly terminate us?)” he lamented.

With 8 kids to support – none of whom are his children – Eli naturally worries about the unexpected loss of his job. Two of the kids have, in fact, already stopped studying and are forced to work instead.

For him, it was heartbreaking to have to tell them they had to stop for now – or, if he couldn’t be reinstated, why they would have to stop indefinitely.

He said his job meant everything to him. “Hindi ka naman tatagal kung ’di sobra ang pagmamahal mo sa trabaho (You can’t possibly stay for a long time if you don’t love your work.)”

He values his work so much, he is willing to fight for their job reinstatement. He hopes to get what they deserve.

We are old

Eli is just one of the many laid off PUP janitors who worry about the future of their families – the families are dependent on the remaining years they have left before retirement at age 60.

With only 4 years left, Eli knows no new employer is likely to accept him. Age limit is a big factor, too big that he decided not to even try applying for a new job. He said he knows that if he ever did try applying for a job, he would end up as a contractual without any social security benefits.

WE WON’T STOP. Eli is determined to spend his 4 remaining years as a janitor in PUP. Photo by Nathan Gatpandan

“6-month contract. 5 months pa nga lang wala ka na, sa kontrata kasi iniiwasan nila ’yung benefits…Unang-una ’yung SSS masisira, eh di palundag-lundag hulog mo sa SSS. Useless, wala, he added.

(It’s a 6-month contract, but after 5 months you’re out. In contractual jobs they avoid the provision of benefits…First and foremost, you won’t get continuous contributions for your SSS [Social Security System] premium. It’s useless, good for nothing.)

The pension they can get from years of paying their SSS, is what drives Eli and the other retiring janitors to continue the fight. Eli said his former janitorial job assured them of benefits and income. But sadly, these have been terminated along with their jobs.

They are young

It is a tough road for the old and retiring janitors like Eli , who can only wait. But for younger ones like Renato Ala, jumping from one job to another is still an option.

After being laid off like Eli, he joined the other protesting janitors. However, he believes that he can do more to secure the future of his family.

FATHER OF TWO. Renato strives to look for jobs while still awaiting reinstatement, all for his family. Photo by Amber Gonzales

Knowing his advantage over the others, Renato, 33, applied as a construction worker after their failed negotiations with the new manpower agency.

His youth allowed him to get into other jobs, but only contractual ones that he knows will keep him looking again for another, just after 5-6 months.

Because of this, he said he is willing to wait for reinstatement at PUP. “Mas gusto ko dito kasi lahat ng benefits nandito….Kasi sa construction P300 a day….Sa PUP minimum….[may] SSS, Pag-ibig, PhilHealth…noong tinanggal ’yung trabaho, wala nang benefits.”

(I like it here because all the benefits are provided here. In construction work, you’re paid P300 a day….In PUP you’re paid the minimum wage, with SSS, Pag-ibig, PhilHealth… but when we got fired from work we lost the benefits.)

Contractualization is what Renato thinks can save his family, for now. In fact, he is just one of the many contractual workers who cling to such a thin thread of hope.

According to latest available statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics, contractual or project-based workers comprised half of the 850,085 non-regular workers in 2010.

Contractuals numbered 445,020 in 2010 usually commissioned for a project that will take them in for a short period of time. But for them, there is neither stability nor security of tenure.

Dead end?

Eli still hopes to be reinstated for his remaining 4 years, as does Renato, who does not savor the thought of forever applying for contractual jobs.

Sa edad ko ngayon di pa ako natatakot kasi kaya ko pa pero sa edad ni Eli syempre takot na takot ka na noon. ’Di ka na pwedeng magtrabaho nang ganoon…kasi ang construction mabigat na trabaho ’yan eh, di katulad dito, maglilinis ka lang kumpleto pa benefits mo, Renato said.

(In my age now, I’m not frightened because I know I can still work. But with Eli’s age, you’d be too scared because you can’t work that way – construction is a tough job, unlike here in PUP, you just clean and you can receive complete benefits already.)

But despite having an advantage in age, Eli knows that Renato will end up just like him if their status at PUP remains uncertain.

Eli said Renato, who resorted to contractualization out of the desperate need to work, will become old like him without the assurance of retirement benefits.

Tingin ko parehas kami, walang maswerte. Eh contract eh…swerte siya naka-apply siya pero six months lang din ’yun…Masaya siya naka-apply siya pero kung matanggap eh wala pa ring kasiguruhan, Eli added.  

(I think we’re the same, both unfortunate. It’s still contractual…he is lucky he was able to apply but it’s just a 6-month job….He’s happy he managed to apply, but if he’s accepted there’s still no stability.)

PROTEST. PUP janitors who were terminated set up a protest camp in the hope of being reinstated.

The PUP janitors have set up camp inside PUP for about 5 months in protest of their removal from their jobs. They have built a humble abode where they cook, eat, sleep, and fight. –


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