POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Will Duterte keep his word to Labor?

WILL President Rodrigo Duterte announce today firm official action making good his outstanding commitments to Labor? Or will he quibble or, worse, step back from his promises?

That question is uppermost in the minds of workers as the nation marks Labor Day today.

On March 2, 2017, soon after President Duterte held his first dialogue with workers’ groups, labor leaders gave him a letter thanking him for granting their request for a dialogue on the ending of contractualization and other work issues.

Contractualization, or “Endo” (end-of-contract) and “555” (repeated five months work contract), is a regulated work arrangement where workers are hired for five or six months only. Some employers hire contractualized employees to replace regular workers and to avoid regularizing them and paying mandated wages, social insurances, and benefits.

During the 2016 election campaign and in his many statements as president, Duterte kept reiterating his commitment to end contractualization once and for all.

In their letter, the labor groups reminded Duterte of his commitments made during their dialogue on Feb. 27, 2017. They said the President promised, among other things, to:

* Direct the Labor Secretary to issue a department order consistent with his determination that contractualization, including that done through middlemen agency contractors and cooperatives, be prohibited, and that direct hiring by employers should be the norm.

* Certify House Bill 444 (An Act to Strengthen Security of Tenure). The bill seeks to prohibit all forms of contractualization and to criminalize its violation. The President recommended fines ranging from P500,000 to P1 million for violations.

* Direct Presidential Management Staff Secretary Christopher Go to look into the status of the ratification of ILO Convention 151 (Labor Relations [Public Service] Convention 1978) which empowers the public sector to organize and create associations and unions.

* Indicate his willingness to establish a tripartite commission to review and revise the guidelines and rules on wage-setting in the light of inadequate minimum wage rates of workers.

* Subject the appointment of genuine worker representation in tripartite bodies of Government-Owned-and-Controlled Corporations to annual official review to protect workers’ interests in these institutions.

* Insist on a new power policy that assures the secure supply of electricity and its affordability to make the economy regionally competitive and not burden small consumers with expensive electricity, and to consider mandatory public bidding of power supply agreements as well as tariff formula reform.

* Support the DOLE initiative (in the light of the Kentex and HTI fires where workers died) to deputize unions and their staffs to serve as labor inspectors to check compliance by employers with general labor and occupational safety and health standards, and the payment of minimum wages.

* Call quarterly dialogues with the labor sector to ensure proper follow-up action on his marching orders and provide workers the opportunity to flag new and emerging concerns.

* Direct the DOLE to prohibit recruitment, facilitation, and placement fees being charged prospective Overseas Filipino Workers.

* Ordered the DOLE and the Philippine National Police to prevent rogue policemen in cahoots with local officials from harassing labor leaders and union organizers in the name of the war on illegal drugs. (This was after he learned of the arrest of a union organizer in Tarlac on drug charges in November 2016.)

 Status of Duterte commitments

The Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) says that three of Duterte’s commitments have been completed: the ratification of ILO Convention 151, the training of labor union representatives for the joint workplace inspection, and the enforcement of the prohibition of collection of fees from OFWs.

On March 16, 2017, in response to the primary dialogue agenda, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello—after consultations with business and labor groups— issued Department Order 174 that further regulates, not ban, contractualization, saying that the Labor Code only allows him to regulate and not prohibit contractualization.

This was rejected by labor groups, because the order, they said, does not fulfil the promise of the President. They insist that the Labor Code allows the labor secretary to prohibit contractualization.

On May 1 last year, labor leaders informed the President in Davao City that DO 174 does not meet his commitment to end the work scheme.

He ordered labor leaders to draft an Executive Order on contractualization, because the bill on the matter could not pass both Senate and the House of Representatives due to the strong lobby from business and employers groups.

Eight days later, the labor sector submitted a draft EO. With business saying an absolute ban on contractualization would cause unemployment, business closure and turn-off investors, Duterte asked them to draft an EO that allows flexibility for business owners to outsource contractual and seasonal jobs.

Business, employers and labor contractors also submitted their own version of an EO that allows, and not ban, some form of contractualization.

On April 13, three days before the scheduled Duterte-labor sector dialogue in Malacañang, labor leaders submitted a watered-down EO that recognizes job-contracting flexibility as desired by business groups.

With two different versions of EO from two opposing sectors in its hands, Malacañang was forced to postpone the dialogue set on April 16.

On April 17, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a press briefing in Malacañang that the President will no longer sign an EO but will certify as urgent the Security of Tenure Bill that was recently passed on third reading.

An hour later, Bello said in his own press conference in Intramuros that instead of signing an EO he had recommended that the President certify the Security of Tenure Bill.

With the vacillation in the Palace, some labor leaders fear that President Duterte is stepping back from his campaign promises and commitments. Until last night there were hurried consultations on what would be acceptable to labor.

Organized labor boasts of 2.5 million warm bodies, but it is a fractious lot – and therefore does not cast a forbidding bloc or command vote. Does that make it easier for any president to walk away from workers?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2018)

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