[OPINION] Contractualization and the rights of workers

AGENCY-HIRED. Workers in the manufacturing sector are commonly hired through manpower agencies, says the Philippine Statistics Authority. File photo by AFP

AGENCY-HIRED. Workers in the manufacturing sector are commonly hired through manpower agencies, says the Philippine Statistics Authority.

File photo by AFP

 

Special envoy to China Ramon Tulfo’s controversial remarks against Filipino construction workers – made in defense of the influx of Chinese workers in the Philippines – should be taken as an affront to all Filipino laborers.

The reason for this is not only is his general conception of Filipino construction workers false, he even carelessly argued that Filipinos are generally lazy by wrongfully quoting the work of Jose Rizal to prove the indolence of the Filipino people.

It appears that by using Rizal’s authority, Ramon Tulfo failed to read beyond the title of the hero's work. With his flawed reasoning, he wants to justify prejudice against Filipino laborers – when compared to foreigners – who are looking to get a job. I have nothing against foreigners working in the country, but to smear the reputation of the Filipino worker to justify their hiring is detestable.

Tulfo's remarks only add more insult to injury given the precarious conditions of many Filipino workers who continually face unlawful practices and legal loopholes governing contractualization.

Ending all forms of contractualization?

According to the 2015 Integrated Survey of Labor and Employment (ISLE) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), an estimated 7 million Filipino workers in the country  are in precarious employment conditions that usually fall under either the exploitative end of contract (ENDO) or labor-only contracting (LOC) arrangements.

According to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the industries of manufacturing, retail, and accommodation usually engage in such form of schemes.  Although there are lawful forms of contractualization such as job-contracting, fixed-term employment contracts, and trilateral employment arrangements,  employers tend to circumvent labor laws by improperly disguising an employment relationship as something else. 

Such circumvention persists, according to a 2014 study of Cristobal and Resurreccion, due to abject poverty, the lack of employment opportunities, and the generally ambivalent perception of employees towards joining unions, which forces workers to merely suffer in silence rather than face the possibility of unemployment. 

Because of this abusive and exploitative employment relationships, labor groups in the country are pushing for total prohibition of all forms of contractualization by virtue of direct hiring as a basic principle of employment.

Business groups oppose this since they see this as impractical and something that would eventually kill their businesses. This is supported by a 2016 study of Paqueo and Orbeta which claims that ending lawful contractualization would lead to unintended adverse consequences like business closures and/or eventual reduction in job opportunities.

Given the reasons for and against contractualization, I empathize with labor groups to end all forms of contractualization due to the circumventing practices of employers, but at the same time, I understand the position of business groups that regularizing all employees would eventually kill businesses and reduce job opportunities. Thus, it is important to have a clear distinction between lawful and unlawful forms of contractualization.

Upholding dignity of workers

If contractualization is under the existing parameters of the law, then businesses must not be compelled to automatically regularize its contractual employees, provided that they observe properly DOLE Order 18-A series of 2011, which stipulates that workers under a legal contractualization arrangement should be entitled to the same benefits granted by the Labor Code, the right to security of tenure, and the right to engage in collective bargaining.

If companies are found practicing illegal forms and/or exploiting legal loopholes, then they should be dealt with accordingly and should be legally compelled to absorb the costs of regularizing employees as legitimate costs for doing business.  

However, in order for this to work, we must support in-cash and in-kind labor groups who are legitimately fighting for the regularization of their union members because big companies have the luxury of prolonging legal battles and even employing violent tactics (e.g. assassination of union leaders) in order to weaken their opponents.

Let us also boycott the products and services of these companies. This way, we send a clear message that we do not support such kind of businesses and they have no place in our society. We must all uphold the dignity of work and the rights of workers for it is the prime activity that truly makes us truly human, affecting the way we view ourselves, define our position in society, and impact the lives of our respective families. – Rappler.com 

Mark Anthony D. Abenir, DSD, is an associate professor and the director of the Simbahayan Community Development Office of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. He is a development worker and currently serves as chair of the Community Development Society of the Philippines. You may follow him o Twitter @mark_abenir.