House panel tackles job security bills
MANILA, Philippines – Workers' job security became the priority issue of the House committee on labor and employment on Wednesday, February 18, also the Global Day of Action on the Right to Strike.
The House panel heard 11 proposed laws that deal mainly with workers' security of tenure, a constitutionally enshrined right that protects workers from termination without just cause and due process. The measures require amendment of the 41-year-old Labor Code.
There were proposals to either regulate or prohibit job contracting, a system where workers are outsourced from capitalized general contractors; and limiting fixed-term employment, which some employers use to hire and rehire workers without making them regular employees.
Based on the results of a survey released by the Philippine Statistics Authority in May 2014, one in 3 workers in establishments with at least 20 employees are non-regulars. They represent 1.149 million of the 3.769 million establishment workers in the country.
Lawyer Benjo Santos Benavides, Director of the Bureau of Labor Relations at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), told the House panel that the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council has had difficulty reaching a consensus on non-regular employment.
A draft bill seeking to protect contractual workers' rights and address perennial issues raised by labor groups has been stuck at the council, headed by Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and has as members representatives from the labor and employers' sectors.
Benavides explained that Baldoz had earlier issued DOLE Order 18-A, which provides protection to contracted laborers, to harmonize polar views from the two sectors, but admitted that the department order "can only do so much."
"Management prerogative involves the right to fire and the right to hire within the limitations set by law and rules of regulation," he said.
Under DO 18-A, firms engaged in job contracting and subcontracting arrangements are required to register with DOLE regional offices for compliance monitoring.
It requires a contractor or subcontractor and its principal to ensure workers' right to minimum wage, security of tenure, safe and healthy working conditions, Social Security Systems and PhilHealth benefits, rest days, holiday pay, 13th month pay, separation pay, overtime pay, and other allowances provided in the Labor Code. Workers hired through a third party are allowed to form unions.
It provides that principals and contractors will be held jointly liable for any violations in labor, occupational health, and safety standards. DO 18-A, however, does not have the strength of a law in terms of punitive measures.
Talents from network giant GMA-7, who had protested and sued the network for its continued denial of regular employee status to them, also attended the House hearing.
"Kami ang tao behind the shows (We are the people behind the shows [of GMA-7])," said their leader Christian Cabaluna, and emphasized that the law considers as regular employees those who are "necessary and desirable" in a company's ordinary course of work.
Cabaluna explained that the network considers them as project-based independent contractors, making uncertain their work tenure.
"Sa 9 years ko sa network, ang unang kong pinirmahan ay 3 months, naging 6 months, naging 5 years (In my 9 years in the network, I first signed a 3-month contract, which became 6 months, and then 5 years)," the long-time talent said.
Their non-regular status deprives them of law-mandated benefits, Cabaluna said, including sick leaves and vacation leaves. With the "no work, no pay system," they are forced to work even when sick."We champion the rights of the downtrodden but we ourselves are powerless," Cabaluna said.
Most of the 11 proposed measures before the House committee also pushed for the prohibition of labor only-contracting, a permissible system under Philippine laws where workers are outsourced from general contractors.
Arturo Guerrero III of the Philippine Association of Legitimate Service Contractors explained that certain products and services are seasonal, creating the need for alternative hiring set-ups such as contracted labor.
He said that job outsourcing and job contracting "gives business owners the ability to acquire labor quickly."
"Prohibiting it would mean loss in jobs and increase in unemployment rates. We will be the only ASEAN country who would be without it, and that would set the Philippines at a disadvantage," Guerrero said.
Guerrero added: "Service contractors offer a variety of contracts that meet diversity of attitudes and expectations to work. Outsourcing is a global trend right now. We only hear that there are abuse to these sectors and we don't stand by this."
He said his group abides by DOLE DO 18-A.
Meanwhile, labor groups heeded the call of the International Trade Union Confederation and held rally in front of the DOLE office in Manila on February 18, the Global Day of Action on the Right to Strike, in defense of the right to strike or collectively refuse rendering work as a mechanism to air labor grievances.
Lawyer Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers, said the right to strike is an urgent concern as employers' representatives worldwide "are letting go of the last bargaining lever of workers to improve their wages and benefits." – Rappler.com