Duterte’s best gift to labor
Early on in the 2016 campaign period, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte said that “labor contractualization is adopted in the United States and other developed with stable economies but for a country like the Philippines, when the economy is still building, you don’t practice this.” This statement was met with much applause. After all, no other candidate had spoken so passionately against labor contractualization.
Now, early on in President Duterte’s term, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had committed itself to significantly reducing endo within a few months. With the first Labor Day under this administration happening today, we must ask: what progress, if any, has there been made in addressing the problem of labor contractualization?
As of October 2016, DOLE claims that more than 45,000 contractual workers have been regularized under the Duterte administration. However, these numbers still leave much to be desired given that, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority, more than 1.3 million Filipinos were considered non-regular employees in 2014. Hopefully, more progress has been made since then.
Furthermore, DOLE has composed a list of "priority establishments" that will be scrutinized and, if found wanting, forced to comply with labor standards. PLDT and Philippine Airlines, among others, are on the list. It will be a great victory for the contractual workers if they attain regular status.
However, enforcement must be carried out in a fair and systematic manner. It is certainly possible that the anti-contractualization campaign will primarily target the businesses of political opponents, while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the labor violations of allies. We must remember that Ferdinand Marcos, like President Duterte, promised to dismantle the oligarchy. What Marcos did instead was to strip his opponents of their company holdings and then subsequently turn them over to his cronies.
The most disputed of this administration’s labor policy is the DOLE’s order on contractualization. In the words of NAGKAISA, the broadest coalition of labor groups in the Philippines: “By ensuring continuity and stability of agency hiring, the new D.O. will never put an end but rather perpetuate the epidemic of contractualization.” Moreover, they argued that, among other things, it is ineffective because it “opens floodgates to agencies to set up shops” and “will enhance cutthroat competition among contractors bidding down salaries and benefits of their employees. Lastly, they point out that labor-only-contracting and the other practices mentioned are already prohibited. Given this, it seems as if DOLE is more intent on merely regulating contractualization, rather than eliminating it entirely.
I am hopeful that Secretary Bello will be able to fulfill the promises that he and the President have made to the workers. After all, as a lawyer, he knows that the rights of workers are enshrined in the Constitution: “They shall be entitled to security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage.”
Furthermore, as the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process, he knows that the keystone of peace is social justice. This is the reason why the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms is at the center of the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF. We all know that insurgency and unrest will continue to persist for as long as exploitation and poverty remains unaddressed.
What then must the government do to put an end to labor contractualization and uphold the dignity of labor?
- DOLE must start from scratch and come up with a department order that aligns with the demands of the labor groups. While the sentiments of other stakeholders must be taken into consideration, in the end, it is the laborers themselves who must have the greatest say.
- An acceptable department order, while a good start, is still insufficient because it could easily be overturned by future administrations. An anti-contractualization labor law, on the other hand, will be much harder to repeal. Therefore, President Duterte should certify as urgent the Security of Tenure Act, which will, in the words of Nagkaisa, “definitely prohibit and criminalize contractualization and all forms of fixed-term contracts.”
- A successful peace deal with the CPP-NPA-NDF and the subsequent ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms is necessary in upholding the dignity of laborers. This is because laborers will also benefit from the rights that will be enshrined in the proposed agreement. Among other things, it promises to champion the right of all Filipinos to adequate housing, accessible and affordable utilities, and free education.
More than 6 months have passed since the beginning of his term and there is still no end in sight for the bloody War on Drugs. Similarly, little progress has been made in putting an end to labor contractualization. This is despite the fact that any policy that will uphold the dignity of labor will have the overwhelming support of the populace. Undoubtedly, the President has the rare opportunity to put an end to a decades long injustice.
More than any surprise package the President announces today, Labor Day, it is the real end of contractualization that will make a real difference to the working class. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.