500,000 workers regularized since Duterte signed EO – DOLE
MANILA, Philippines — Half a million workers have been regularized since Labor Day last year when President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order to protect the workers’ right to security of tenure, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole).
The President issued Executive Order (EO) No. 51 in the absence of a congressional measure that would put an end to the unfair labor practice of contractualization, one of his campaign promises.
The EO was heavily criticized by labor groups, describing it as “useless” for omitting the crucial provision declaring direct hiring as the norm.
Despite the reaction, 435,188 workers have been regularized by their employers since 2016, Dole records showed.
Most of them, or 320,999, became regular employees in private companies only last year following the EO’s release, said Assistant Labor Secretary Benjo Benavidez.
But Josua Mata, secretary general of the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa, said the Dole should not make such a bold claim because what the EO did was only to ensure that workers would not be laid off if their company was issued a compliance order by the department.
“It’s difficult to argue that it’s [one of the reasons] why workers were regularized because the reality is many of those regularized weren’t due to Dole’s compliance orders,” Mata said.
Of the number of workers regularized, three-fourths, or 310,759, were voluntarily regularized, noted Benavidez.
The Dole widely promotes voluntary regularization as this is supposedly the “fairest, fastest and less costly” way to improve the lot of contractual workers.
“We encourage voluntary regularization because workers and Dole can’t litigate these cases all the way to the Supreme Court,” Benavidez told the Inquirer.
Take the case of PLDT Inc., which the Dole haled into court last year for supposedly engaging in illegal contractualization and for refusing to grant regular employment status to its more than 7,300 workers.
To this day, Benavidez lamented that none of PLDT’s workers had been regularized, as the petition for review of the case against the telco giant was still pending in the Supreme Court.
The official noted that as much as possible, the Dole would try to avoid filing cases against companies. He cited past experiences showing that what Dole gained was mere “paper victory.”
That happened to Dole Philippines, where the position workers fought for no longer existed. They won their case in 2006.
In cases of voluntary regularization, the Dole sits down with a company to discuss its program and commitment to regularization.
An example is the giant shopping mall chain SM, which has already regularized in less than a year 11,000 of its workers, mostly cashiers, baggers and sales clerks, according to Benavidez.
These workers have been verified by labor inspectors as real warm bodies, and not just mere names submitted to the Dole by the company.
Deal with Ecop
In March, the Dole was supposed to enter into an agreement with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop) for its 3,200 member establishments to voluntarily regularize until 2022 around 40 percent of their workforce, or an estimated 220,000 employees.
In exchange, the companies will be exempted from labor inspections for three years, unless a complaint is filed against them.
Labor groups assailed the deal as a “ploy to thwart” the passage of Senate Bill No. 1826, which will help put an end to the long-standing problem of contractualization.
The chair of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition noted that while his group was not against the voluntary regularization program, it did not agree with the fact that companies should be encouraged to do something that they should have done in the first place.
“The Dole appears to condone the illegal [practices] of some employers in its grant of immunity from inspection,” said Sonny Matula, the coalition head and a senatorial candidate.
“It said inspections will be done if there are complaints, but most of our workers do not complain. Our workers are left in a pitiful situation,” Matula said.
Benavidez said the agreement would have made work easier for the Dole’s “overloaded” inspectors since Ecop would police its ranks.
Nonetheless, he said, the labor department was still meeting with labor groups to explain the deal’s benefit to workers.
For the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, the figures that the Dole is presenting to the public and its discussions with companies on the voluntary regularization of employees are mere “smokescreens” to cover its failure to curb illegal contractualization.
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