Dignity of work | Inquirer Opinion

Dignity of work

/ 05:03 AM May 01, 2022

Back in 2015, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte vowed to end labor contractualization and challenged those who support it to make sure he loses in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Duterte won, largely on the back of his labor-friendly, antidrug and anti-corruption promises. Now, two months before his six-year term ends this June, the practice of labor contractualization, or hiring workers on short-term contracts, continues.

Worse, the difficulties faced by workers have only been aggravated by the government’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing thousands of them to lose jobs while those who still had work saw their wages eroded by the rising prices of basic necessities. Labor groups have criticized the government for allowing workers to be laid off without intervention and failing to provide them immediate economic relief at the height of the global health crisis.

As Filipinos head to the polls on May 9, labor-related problems that the pandemic has highlighted, including contractualization, unemployment benefits, and compensation for frontline workers, have become important factors to consider in choosing the country’s next leaders.


The stakes are even higher this time because the country is still reeling from the lingering economic effects of the pandemic. There is no room for candidates who make grand promises only to break them, as has happened under this administration. After years of raising the hopes of the labor sector with thundering tirades against contractualization, Mr. Duterte vetoed the security of tenure bill in 2019, despite certifying it as urgent earlier. The bill, long demanded by the labor sector, would have made it illegal for job contractors to recruit and supply workers for certain industries who can then deny the rights and benefits due these workers because their jobs, according to the contractees, are “not directly related to their core business.”


“[Mr. Duterte’s] promise to end the contractualization of jobs in the Philippines secured many votes from the working class,” said Sonny Matula, chair of the Federation of Free Workers, shortly after Mr. Duterte won the presidential election in 2016.

Matula, now running for senator as part of the opposition coalition, is campaigning to ban “endo” (end of contract) and contractualization schemes and is pushing for a national minimum wage. These two issues have been raised by other presidential candidates during televised debates but, based on the Commission on Elections’ Vote Pilipinas website, only three have specified their plans for the working class.

Labor leader Leody de Guzman wants to ban contractualization, raise salaries for COVID-19 frontliners, institutionalize a minimum wage at the national instead of regional level, and eventually hike it to P750. The highest daily minimum wage is in the National Capital Region: P537 for nonagricultural workers, and P500 for agricultural, manufacturing, and retail workers. Both De Guzman and Vice President Leni Robredo plan to launch a government employment program and offer unemployment benefits for displaced workers. Robredo, in particular, wants to introduce unemployment insurance—a benefit enjoyed in the United States and European countries—that will provide workers 80 percent of their three months’ salary while they are job hunting. She also wants to reactivate the manufacturing industry—which was sidelined by the Duterte administration’s import-dependent economic policy—and develop new industries that can open more job opportunities for Filipinos. Meanwhile, businessman Faisal Mangondato, who is from Lanao del Sur, wants to prioritize job opportunities for workers outside Metro Manila.

No doubt there is a need for more jobs, with the country’s unemployment rate at 6.4 percent as of February, and more than three million Filipinos jobless. But to generate jobs, the economy needs to recover first, and for that to happen, the government needs to assure markets and investors that it has sound plans and policies to accomplish this. That responsibility now falls on the next administration.

Thus, the Church-Workers Solidarity (CWS) said, it is important for voters to choose candidates who will protect the rights and dignity of workers whose hard labor turns the wheels of a country’s economy. The CWS noted that among the immediate tasks that the incoming administration must do is to scrap antilabor laws that perpetuate the oppression and exploitation of workers. “We hope and pray that our future leaders will bring about genuine societal change, one that would benefit the least of our brothers and sisters in society,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, chair of CWS.

But the quality of labor, Pope Francis tweeted last Thursday, can only be increased if the dignity of work is protected. Today, Labor Day, is the perfect occasion to ponder how our vote can make this happen.

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TAGS: Editorial, Labor Day

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