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Philippine workers dismiss order against contracting

Ban signed by Duterte still allows some forms of labor contractualization, critics say

Inday Espina-Varona and Joe Torres, Manila

Inday Espina-Varona and Joe Torres, Manila

Published: May 02, 2018 10:34 AM GMT

Updated: May 02, 2018 10:44 AM GMT

Philippine workers dismiss order against contracting

Church people join protest rallies in Manila to call for an end to labor-only contracting on May 1, Labor Day. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Philippine labor groups have branded a new government order against casual labor contracting "useless", saying it bans what is already banned by law.

An estimated 50,000 workers from various labor federations marched in Manila on Labor Day, to condemn what they claimed was the government's failure to end all forms of "labor-only contracting."

"Labor-only contracting" is the practice of using agents or manpower agencies to recruit casual workers on behalf of a bigger business, so the latter can circumvent labor rules and avoid hiring regular employees, consequently making it easier to sack people.

Early this year, the Lower House of Congress passed a bill outlawing the practice, but several legislators opposed the proposed measure, saying it had limited reach.

On May 1, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order prohibiting labor-only contracting, but some forms of "contractualization" were still allowed.

The president's order dismayed labor groups who said the order was part of a "desperate and repeated ploy to quell the labor sector's growing protests … against his failed promises."

The president, whose campaign promise in 2016 was to end labor-only contracting, said more comprehensive action had to be done by reviewing the country's labor laws.


Some form of 'contractualization' still allowed

Under the president's executive order, some form of "contractualization," like seasonal or project-based jobs, are still permitted.

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"I remain firm in my commitment to put an end to ... illegal contractualization," Duterte said May 1 in a speech before thousands of job seekers in the central Philippine city of Cebu.

The president warned non-compliant and abusive employers that their "days are numbered," but said he would leave the task of undoing unjust labor conditions to legislators.

But labor leaders said Duterte is skirting round his campaign promise to overhaul an employment system that leaves millions of workers with no security of tenure.

"Even as jobs remain contractual and not regular, wages are being eroded by the escalation of prices," said Rene Magtubo of the Workers' Party.

"Workers are outraged over Duterte's rejection of our demand to end all forms of contractualization," said Elmer Labo of the May First Movement.

A confluence of factors, including joblessness, spurred workers' groups to march under one banner for the first time during this year's observance of Labor Day.

Almost 11 million Filipinos are jobless, according to a Social Weather Stations survey released this week.

It noted that unemployment rose from 7.2 million in December 2017 to 10.9 million in March 2018.

The 23.9 percent unemployment rate was an 8.2 percent increase on the 15.7 percent rate recorded in the same period last year.


End exploitation of workers

In his Labor Day message, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said work and the problems connected to it "should be approached in a holistic way."

"It should not be seen simply in financial or economic terms," said the prelate.

"Work is not solely a task accomplished, merchandise produced or a target profit reached," he added.

"Work is fundamentally what happens to the human person," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Tagle, however, admitted that the labor situation in the country was "complex" with many factors affecting it.

"Domestic conditions and global forces pose problems and challenges. We are confronted with unemployment, underemployment, instability in work, and even exploitation," said the prelate.

He said these conditions "aggravate poverty, social exclusion, and inequalities."

The cardinal said the church has always recognized work as a key aspect of human existence and human development.

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