Better conditions for workers | Inquirer Opinion

Better conditions for workers

/ 05:03 AM July 10, 2022

That the Philippines is one of the 10 worst countries in the world for workers comes hardly as a surprise. Many ills continue to beset the labor sector including the Red-tagging of labor leaders and arrests of workers for holding strikes under the previous regime despite its fiery promises of addressing decadeslong issues, particularly of ending the practice of short-term labor contracts or “endo.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) gave the country a rating of 5 or “no guarantee of rights,” for the sixth straight year. In a report released last month, ITUC cited three major issues why the Philippines is not safe for workers: violence and murders, arrests during strikes, and state repression. “Workers and their representatives in the Philippines remained particularly vulnerable to violent attacks, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests. Trade unionists, maliciously Red-tagged by President Duterte, remained under immediate threat of the police and the army, which conducted targeted raids against them,” the report stated. It noted that over 50 trade unionists have been killed since Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016. The Philippines was in the same company as countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh, notorious for their violations of workers’ rights.

Duterte did attempt to address the problem of “endo” and issued an executive order in 2018, but one that was widely criticized by the labor sector because it still allowed some forms of labor contracting. Then in 2019, he vetoed the proposed—but “watered-down”—security of tenure law over a provision that broadened the scope of labor contracting. He later said that Congress should rectify the vetoed provisions. The challenge is now for the Marcos Jr. administration to take up.

While President Marcos Jr. made no mention of his plans for the labor sector in his inaugural address, he committed during the campaign period to give priority to the security of tenure law. But he also stated that prohibiting short-term labor contracts should not apply to all industries—meaning seasonal jobs should not be covered by the law and workers in this category are not entitled to benefits enjoyed by regular employees. Labor leader Leody de Guzman, however, pointed out that seasonal workers such as those in agriculture are considered regular employees under the “regular seasonal” provision in the Labor Code. A 2013 court decision also considered farm workers regular seasonal employees.


The Philippines is certainly not the only country that practices contractualization. The International Labor Organization calls it “non-standard employment” that covers varied arrangements deviating from the standard full-time employment with benefits. In some countries like Pakistan, temporary workers make up to 70 percent of the total wage workers population, while they make up about a quarter or 24.3 percent in the Philippines.

Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, who was also labor secretary from 1998 to 2001 under then President Joseph Estrada, said he has started evaluating labor-related issues including contractualization and a national minimum wage. He added that he was consulting on this “slightly pressing issue” with both the workers and management sides.

Indeed, these are issues that need to be threshed out by the new administration. Previous administrations have attempted—and failed—to put an end to “endo,” which was first allowed under Presidential Decree No. 442 signed by Mr. Marcos’ father in May 1974 at a time when the economy was unstable and unemployment was high. Marcos Sr. then issued the decree to allow the hiring of temporary workers, a practice that has carried on for almost half a century now.

In a radio interview last January, Mr. Marcos said he would talk to owners of big corporations, whom he referred to as “friends,” to address the issue of contractualization: “Siguro naman, kung kausapin natin, kaibigan naman natin sila, sabihin naman natin, para maging patas naman … at ibahin nila ang sistema. Na hindi basta nawawalan ng trabaho, walang karapatan, walang benepisyo, walang health care, walang kahit ano … it is only fair that we understand the situation of our workers, at hindi naman siguro tama na exploited sila masyado.”


It is now in the hands of Mr. Marcos to improve the working conditions of millions of Filipino workers, not only in terms of work security and decent wages but to ensure that they will have the democratic space to exercise their rights. If he succeeds, he will take the country out of the ignominious reputation of being unfriendly to workers, many of whom cast their lot with him in the last elections.



Broad strokes for the future

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