Promise once, promise twice…
Out of the blue, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III announced this week that he has recommended to Malacañang that it certify the “anti-endo” bill as urgent. Huh? Netizens were quick to remind him that it was the Duterte administration that had killed the bill via presidential veto in 2019, violating one of the major campaign promises of President Rodrigo Duterte (his exact words: “The moment I assume office, I will order contractualization to stop”).
What triggered Bello’s sudden renewed interest in that discarded promise, less than a year into the Duterte presidency? That could be the recent plight of Foodpanda riders in Davao City. The riders made news earlier in the week when they were suspended for 10 years by the company after they planned to protest against their low pay, once more highlighting the need for a law that will protect workers in the gig economy.
Enter Bello and his stab at déjà vu. Perhaps seeing in the Foodpanda workers’ situation an opportunity to put the administration in a good light (hello, 2022 elections), he declared that he was backing the resurrection of the anti-endo bill. But when pressed about the difference between the measure that was vetoed in 2019 and the one that he now wants certified as urgent, supposedly to address the current issue affecting freelance workers, Bello’s helpful reply: “Substantially, parehas lang naman.”
The labor chief may have been unaware that there’s another bill that specifically addresses the concerns of gig economy workers, including food couriers and delivery riders working for such service apps as Foodpanda: Senate Bill No. 1810 or the proposed Freelancers Protection Act, which is up for second reading.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, the bill’s author, wants the Department of Labor and Employment and President Duterte to first issue an order to ensure the protection and just compensation for these freelance workers while the measure is still being discussed. “Maaari pong atasan ng Pangulo ang DOLE na maglabas ng mga patakaran na gumagarantiya sa karapatan at kapakanan ng mga food delivery riders at mga manggagawang nasa gig economy,” Villanueva said in a statement. Not wanting a repeat of what happened to the previous billʍwhich Congress dutifully passed but, to the consternation of lawmakers, the President trashed a day before it was to lapse into lawʍVillanueva wants inputs from the executive branch, because “mahirap naman na ipapasa ng Senate at ng House, pagkatapos may bubulong sa Pangulo na i-veto yan tulad nang nangyari sa anti-endo bill,” he said.
Bello, in reviving talk of the anti-endo measure, said the President was ready to sign the bill into law back then but “the problem is that some labor groups opposed the bill.” Labor groups did oppose the measure that was transmitted to Malacañang for Mr. Duterte’s signatureʍ because they deemed it a compromise version that failed to address key issues and was not going to end contractualization. The business sector, on the other hand, warned that it could have a negative impact on the economy, and in the end the President sided with big business.
The labor sector is now wary that the issue will be used again as a campaign tool in next year’s elections with the recent move by DOLE, which has also promised to look into the Foodpanda issue. The department has scheduled a dialogue this Monday between Foodpanda officials and the suspended riders who had filed a complaint questioning their termination from the company. Aside from the 30 who were initially suspended for planning to go offline in protest against discrepancies in the company’s computation of their delivery fees and other unfair labor practices, about 70 other riders who protested the suspension and rallied to support their colleagues were also suspended. According to reports, the company offered the jobs back if riders shared information about the protest.
The Senate has already looked into the status of gig economy workers last May. “Without laws that regulate and define the rights of our gig economy workers, they will certainly be exposed to abuse and exploitation,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. She noted that workers classified as independent contractors are currently not entitled to health care benefits, 13th month pay, retirement pay, leave credits, days off, and other forms of basic labor rights found in the Labor Code. The country’s labor laws should also evolve with the new employment landscape that has been generated by the pandemic and a rapidly expanding gig economy, she urged.
Some countries like Spain and the United Kingdom have recently enacted rulings that now classify food delivery riders and ride-sharing drivers as employees of digital platforms and not self-employed. Local gig economy workers, who have served as frontline workers during this pandemic and are instrumental in keeping the economy afloat, deserve the same protection.
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