Decent work, decent life
In 2015, the Philippine government adopted a United Nations resolution titled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The document listed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all member-states should strive to achieve in or before 2030 based on their national circumstances and capacities. One of the SDGs is “Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”
Since 2015, the Philippine economy has been posting an annual average growth of 6 percent, which is one of the fastest in Asia. The continuing economic expansion is a welcome development, although it is still not enough to cover the many unemployed, and to provide full employment to the many more underemployed Filipinos. Also, the fruits of economic growth are not equitably distributed; wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, families and individuals.
The most challenging goal is promoting “decent work for all.” The International Labor Organization (ILO), of which the Philippines is a member, defines decent work as “work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives, and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”
Unfortunately, decent work in the Philippines remains elusive for millions of Filipinos, who are joining the new class of precarious workers.
Precarious employment refers to “non-standard or non-regular forms of employment” which include “short-term or seasonal or casual job, some forms of fixed term or project employment contracts, seasonal employment, and employment through contracting or subcontracting arrangements” (ILO, 2017). End of contract or “endo” is just one form of precarious employment in the country.
In 2015, 30.7 percent of all employees were classified under precarious work, which translated to around 7 million workers (ILO, 2017). Precarious work in the public sector is manifested by the existence of around 500,000 “job orders” and “contract of service” employees who have no “employer-employee relationship” with the government.
Those workers have no security of tenure, which keeps them from effectively exercising their fundamental rights at work; they cannot join unions and are not covered by collective bargaining agreements. Most of them are not given social protection by the Social Security System (in the private sector) or Government Service Insurance System (in the public sector), or PhilHealth, Pag-Ibig and other mandatory benefits. Most of them belong to the working poor who lag far, far behind the much-vaunted GDP growth.
President Duterte’s recent Executive Order No. 51 will not totally end precarious work in the country. The prohibition of “illegal contracting and subcontracting” does not really change the fundamental and unjust employment relationship that is becoming more and more prevalent—the indirect hiring of workers through manpower agencies and job contractors. With the new EO, a trilateral employment relationship will still continue, which makes Filipino workers vulnerable. Workers who are under agencies, contractors and subcontractors have no real job security because their employment is still tied to a service agreement that can be arbitrarily terminated by the principal employer. And after a few months without a prospect for redeployment, the unemployed worker will just have to move on and try to find another manpower agency where he or she will remain a precarious worker.
The administration’s objective to reduce the poverty rate from 21.6 percent in 2015 to 13 percent by the end of the President’s term in 2022, and its public statements on promoting “shared prosperity” to give Filipinos opportunities to have a decent life, are all good in words and on paper. But the prospects for decent work will remain abstract for millions of Filipinos if the present oppressive and exploitative system is not changed. Now, it is Congress, particularly the Senate, that must step up to the plate and craft legislation that will make the policy of direct hiring the norm and not the exception, as it is at present.
Workers agreed with then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte that change is an imperative for Filipinos to have a decent life. But Filipinos will not have a decent life without decent work. The President has said he is not a legislator and cannot change the Labor Code, but the labor sector is still hoping that he would use his influence, political capital and moral suasion for Congress to pass a law that will really contribute to the achievement of decent work for all Filipinos.
Vicente C. Camilon Jr. is assistant general secretary and spokesperson of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.
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