Contractual frontliners fear losing jobs in proposed gov't rightsizing

FRONTLINER. DSWD staff accepting requests for assistance at the agency's crisis intervention unit. Photo by Patty Pasion/Rappler

FRONTLINER. DSWD staff accepting requests for assistance at the agency's crisis intervention unit.

Photo by Patty Pasion/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Even without an employer-employee relationship with the government, contractual workers under the job order (JO) and contract of services (COS) arrangement comprise a quarter of the government bureaucracy. 

They are those under fixed-term arrangements who comprise 592,162 of the 2.4 million-strong Philippine bureaucracy, according to data from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) as of July 2016. 

Workers of this employment nature are wary of the government's plan to "rightsize" or remove redundant offices through House Bill 5707. The House of Representatives approved the measure days after President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned it as a priority measure in his second State of the Nation Address. 

Since they do not have security of tenure, JO and COS workers fear they would be laid off first. Among them are workers who are the frontliners in delivering government services. (READ: Drilon says gov't rightsizing a 'retrenchment' measure

"Our frontliners here in the [crisis intervention units of the] central office are all MOA (memorandum of agreement) workers. Only two or 3 of them are regular. The numbers are different in the regions but it's the same case there," 16-year COS worker Raymundo dela Cruz III said. 

Del Rosario is a member of the labor union of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), called the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP). 

DSWD staff work more than 10 hours a day in the crisis intervention unit (CIU), where they accept requests for medical, educational, and burial assistance, among others. 

Del Rosario, who also works in the CIU on top of his normal duties as part of another unit, said they sometimes work from 7 am to 3 am the next day to process the requests of the indigents reaching out to them. 

Those working in the agency's disaster response team are also contractual workers who do not enjoy job security or benefits. 

Only 10% of DSWD workers are permanent employees while 35% are casual and contractual employees who have no job security but are given benefits like their plantilla counterparts.

The rest are JO or COS workers who are employed short-term. But there are more than 400 workers who have been employed under this scheme for 5 to 28 years. 

'Welfare starts at home'

Del Rosario said they love their work as it is, but can't help thinking about the rights they are entitled to since they are performing core functions of the office. 

"Masyado pa nila nilulugmok ang iyong karapatan, iyong morale mo [hindi] ma-uplift. How can you serve the people kung mismong kami 'di napagserbisyuhan?" he said. 

(They are devoiding us of our rights. They don't boost our morale. How can they serve the people when they fail to serve their own workers?)

"Ang welfare dapat nag-uumpisa sa sarili mong pamamahay (Welfare should start in your own home)," he said. 

DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo has been supportive of calls to end contractualization in government. Last December, she conducted a roundtable discussion with other government agencies on the issue. 

They found that the Department of Public Works and Highways employs the most number of COS workers at 34,259. This is followed by the DSWD's 16,558 and the Department of Health's 16,200 nurses under deployment. 

Joint circular 

Aside from the rightsizing bill, what also worries contractual employees is Joint Circular No. 1, series of 2017, issued by the CSC, Department of Budget and Management, and Commission on Audit.

The directive orders government agencies to review their structure and identify the appropriate manpower they need. The order also provides that creation of permanent positions may be considered by the agencies involved upon review.

It straightens out what kind of work may be outsourced through JO and COS arrangements while stressing that it should be on a short-term basis, contrary to the practice of repeatedly renewing a worker's contract. 

But government laborers oppose one of its provisions which allows the renewal of contract of existing COS and JO workers until December 31, 2018. Come 2019, the government will hire contractual workers through private agencies – a practice also criticized by labor groups in the private sector. 

"Sabi nila dapat idadaan ka sa private agency. Kung idadaan ka sa parang gano'n 'di ba may procurement law tayo? Pababaan iyan ng bidding. Kung pababaan ng bidding, therefore, iyong sahod mo, pababaan din," Contract of Service Employees Association (COSEA) president Roxanne Fernandez said. COSEA is the labor union of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).

(They said our employment will be via a private agency. Since we have a procurement law that mandates the government to pick the lowest bidder, our salaries will expectedly be low as well.)  

It will also hit employees who have been in service for at least 10 years and are hoping for eventual regularization. 

Rio Osila, a 10-year JO utility worker of NAPC, said they are worried about how they would be able to find another job, given that age discrimination in the workplace still persists even though it is illegal.

"Kapag tinanggal kami ngayon, saan kami babalik? May edad na kami. Ang takot namin doon sa circular, iyong gobyerno, hindi man lang nila pinahalagahan ang serbisyong pinagtiyagaan namin sa ahensya," he said. 

(If they laid us off now, where would we go? We are already aging. What makes us feel bad about the circular is that the government is not giving importance to our years of service.) – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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