A foreigner’s take on ‘endo’

Michael Brown
'Workers have a right to job security, and the wages and benefits that go with that'

In 2001, I was hired as Security Manager at Oakwood Premier Ayala Center, the Makati hotel made famous in the Oakwood Mutiny.

(Note: Oakwood Premier in Makati no longer exists, and is not connected to the current Oakwood Premier Joy-Nastalg in Pasig).

My job was to manage Oakwood’s Security Department, including about 2 dozen guards who were actually employed by a contracted security company. When I arrived, most of those guards had been with the hotel since it opened two years earlier.

At that time, Oakwood had a staff of around 200, including housekeepers, maintenance people, kitchen workers, restaurant staff, and of course, my guards.

About half of the staff were directly employed by Oakwood (or, to be more precise, by the hotel’s owning company, Makati Property Ventures, Inc). The rest worked for manpower agencies or, in the case of my guards, for a company contracted to provide a specialized service. We commonly referred to those people as “project” or “casual” workers.

This meant that every department was staffed with both direct employees, who enjoyed the security and benefits of full-time regularized employment, and “casual” staff who received nothing but a paycheck. In many instances, a regular employee worked side-by-side with a casual, both doing exactly the same job.

In most cases, the positions these casuals filled were permanent, full-time slots. Sure, the hotel business has busy seasons and less busy seasons, but for the most part, when one casual employee finished his 6-month contract, that position was immediately filled by another, again and again, year after year. These were not short-term project positions.

Privately, management talked a lot about a fear of unionization, and about the difficulties that can arise when regular employees file labor complaints. I heard time and again, from Human Resources and even the general manager, that this fear was the reason behind the hotel’s hiring policies. By outsourcing most of the rank-and-file positions, the company sought to minimize the union threat.

But this created other problems, problems that management truly didn’t seem to notice or care about. Imagine the company Christmas party, for example, attended by regular rank-and-file employees who were being served by their casual co-workers, those who were not allowed to attend because they were not direct employees. Or imagine the monthly employee awards ceremony. Regular employees were eligible for these awards, which usually came in the form of cash, but their casual co-workers, who did exactly the same job in exactly the same way, were not.

Personally, I found these awards difficult to accept. As a department head, I was expected to participate in judging the candidates, but I was not able to nominate any of my own staff for an award, since none of my guards were direct Oakwood employees. My guards worked longer hours, under more adverse conditions, and through their actions saved the company more money than almost any other worker, I was not allowed to recognize them. I was told that awarding a casual for his performance would empower that worker to claim he was a legitimate employee.

So, placed in that awkward position, I chose not to participate in the monthly ceremony. And for that, I was chastised by HR and told that I was not a “team player”.

Then came another big blow. I was told that Oakwood’s owners had decided to start rotating my guards out too, placing them under the same 6-month limit as the other casuals. They wouldn’t all go at once, but every month a handful would be replaced.

CONTRACTUAL. Employees are hired for short monthly periods, and do not receive benefits given to regular employees. Image by Alejandro Edoria / Rappler

I quickly learned that guards who were returned to their agency were often placed in “floating” status, which essentially meant “go home and wait for another project.” And floating status meant something else too: “no work, no pay”. Since these guys couldn’t afford to sit around without pay while waiting for another project, they usually resigned and applied for work with another guard agency. I learned that this was common practice in the hotel manpower industry, and that the same thing happened to housekeepers, maintenance people, and restaurant workers.

It’s a beautiful setup for both the hotel and the manpower agency. Every 6 months, the agency’s employees voluntarily resign, saving agencies the expense and trouble of regularizing them. And every 6 months, those same people apply to a different agency, ensuring all agencies a steady supply of short-term workers to fill permanent positions. It’s a beautiful setup for everybody except the worker. Imagine doing the same job your whole life, but doing it in blocks of 6 months at a time, without ever receiving the benefits or protections of regularized employment.

For me, as head of security, this was a disaster. At the end of every month, 3 or 4 guards would come into my office to say goodbye, and 3 or 4 new guards would report for work. Those leaving us were good people, people with experience and a working knowledge of our operation. And the newcomers were, quite often, new even to their own agency.

Before long I went from running a sharp, professional Security Department to spending my days answering guest complaints and struggling to remember the names and faces of my own guards. The hotel’s owners were unhappy with the complaints, but refused to accept that their own policy was the cause. Finally, after 4 years with the company, I resigned. I couldn’t take any more of what we were doing to these people. It was inhumane, and it put more value on profit than on human beings.

The practice of casual or project employment does serve a legitimate purpose in some cases. True short-term positions do exist. But any position that will be filled by an unbroken series of workers cannot be called temporary, no matter how the contract may be written.

I’ve read that more than 50% of the Philippines’ employed persons are working under some form of non-regularized arrangement. No doubt some of those are truly temporary jobs, and employers do need the flexibility to enter into those kinds of contracts. But many of them are permanent jobs in disguise.

I’ll be honest. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether the company can afford it or not. Workers have a right to job security, and the wages and benefits that go with that.

We need to end “endo”now. – Rappler.com

Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, and has lived over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, law enforcement, and government. Follow him on Twitter at @M_i_c_h_a_e_l. Or email him at mr.brown.michael.d@gmail.com



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