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Double standard in SOT bill

It’s make or break for President Duterte on his campaign promise in 2016 to put an end to labor-only contracting schemes that labor organizations have been protesting against for decades.

These schemes involve, among others, engagement of the services of personnel supplied by employment agencies, entering into five-month employment contracts, and employment of employees on fixed term or project basis.

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The principal objective of these arrangements is to prevent the employees from gaining regular employment status in their workplaces and, in the process, enjoy the rights and privileges granted by law to that position.

The President initially sought to comply with his campaign promise through Department of Labor and Employment Order No. 174, which required service contractors to keep the contractual employees in their payroll as regular employees as long as they have existing service contracts, and give them vacation and sick leave privileges.

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No dice. The labor organizations were not satisfied with shifting to the service contractors the responsibility of ensuring the security of tenure of contractual, seasonal or casual employees.

In the wake of the adverse reaction, the President, citing alleged limitations to his powers, called on Congress to enact the appropriate legislation that would satisfy labor’s demand for security of tenure.

Congress responded by enacting the security of tenure (SOT) bill that, in substance, would give regular employment status to employees, regardless of the manner of their recruitment, if they perform tasks directly related to the core business of the employer and are under the latter’s direct control and supervision.

The bill would plug the loopholes of the Labor Code that some employers have, with the assistance of their imaginative lawyers, used to circumvent the prohibition on the use of labor-only contracting arrangements.

With the bill already on the President’s desk, he may veto it (as demanded by the business sector), sign it, or let it lapse into law without his signature. The ball on this issue is in his court.

There is no question about the laudable intentions of the bill. Strictly implemented, it could satisfy the labor sector’s long-standing demand for security of employment and enjoyment of the benefits that go with it.

The bill, however, suffers from a fatal flaw: It applies only to employees in the private sector. Through deliberate omission, similarly situated employees in government offices, including local government units, are not covered by the bill.

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These “irregular” government personnel are, depending on the labeling ingenuity of their offices, described as casual, contractual, fixed term, or memorandum of agreement employees.

Regardless of the description, they are no different from employees in the private sector who are employed in six- or 12-month increments and perform tasks essential to the functions of the government offices concerned.

For unexplained reasons, some government officials prefer to engage the services of casual or contractual employees despite the availability of vacant positions in their plantilla (or organizational structure).

In a recent audit report, the Commission on Audit disclosed that casual employees of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources outnumber the regular employees three to one. It has 5,236 casual employees against 1,697 regular employees.

By excluding government employees from the coverage of the SOT bill, Congress may have violated the “equal protection” provision of the Constitution without any justifiable reasons.

These employees have, in effect, become “second class citizens” in the country’s workforce by the simple expedient of being employed by the government and not by the private sector.

Will somebody please tell our lawmakers that government employees, like their counterparts in the private service, have aspirations too for stable employment that could regularly put food on their table and enable them to make long range plans for their loved ones.

What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

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TAGS: bill, Business, Labor, SOT bill
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