In 2015, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte pledged to end labor contracting and challenged those who support it to ensure he loses in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Duterte won, largely thanks to his pro-worker, anti-drugs and anti-corruption promises. Now, two months before his six-year term ends next June, the practice of contracting out labour, or hiring workers on short-term contracts, continues.
Worse, the hardships faced by workers have only been compounded by the government’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing thousands to lose their jobs while those still in work have seen their wages eroded by rising prices of basic necessities. Labor groups have criticized the government for allowing workers to be fired without intervention and for failing to provide them with immediate economic relief at the height of the global health crisis.
As Filipinos head to the polls on May 9, the work-related issues the pandemic has highlighted, including contracting out, unemployment benefits and frontline workers’ compensation, have become important factors to consider. into account in the choice of the country’s next leaders.
The stakes are even higher this time as the country is still reeling from the lingering economic effects of the pandemic. There is no room for candidates who make big promises to be broken, as has happened under this administration. After sparking years of hope in the labor sector with thunderous tirades against contracting, Mr. Duterte vetoed the security of tenure bill in 2019, although he certified it more early as urgent. The bill, long called for by the labor sector, would have made it illegal to recruit and supply workers for certain industries by sub-contractors who can then deny the rights and benefits due to those workers because their jobs, according to contractors, are “not directly linked to their core business. »
“[Mr. Duterte’s] The promise to end the contracting out of jobs in the Philippines won many votes from the working class,” said Sonny Matula, president of the Free Workers Federation, shortly after Mr. Duterte won the presidential election in 2016.
Matula, currently running for senator as part of the opposition coalition, is campaigning to ban endo (end of contract) and contracting schemes and pushing for a national minimum wage. Both of these issues have been raised by other presidential candidates in televised debates but, according to the Commission on Elections’ Vote Pilipinas website, only three have spelled out their plans for the working class.
Labor leader Leody de Guzman wants to outlaw contracting, raise wages for COVID-19 frontliners, institutionalize a national rather than regional minimum wage, and possibly raise it to P750. The highest daily minimum wage is in the National Capital Region: 537 pesos for non-agricultural workers and 500 pesos for agricultural, manufacturing and retail workers. De Guzman and Vice President Leni Robredo plan to launch a government employment program and offer unemployment benefits to displaced workers. Robredo, in particular, wants to introduce unemployment insurance – a benefit enjoyed by the United States and European countries – that will provide workers with 80% of their three months’ salary while they search for a job. She also wants to reactivate the manufacturing industry – which has been sidelined by the import-dependent economic policy of the Duterte administration – and develop new industries that can open up more employment opportunities for Filipinos. Meanwhile, businessman Faisal Mangondato from Lanao del Sur wants to prioritize job opportunities for workers outside Metro Manila.
There is no doubt that there is a need for more jobs, with an unemployment rate of 6.4% in February and more than three million Filipinos out of work. But to create jobs, the economy must first recover, and for that, the government must assure markets and investors that it has solid plans and policies in place to do so. This responsibility now falls to the next administration.
Thus, according to Church-Workers Solidarity (CWS), it is important that voters choose candidates who will protect the rights and dignity of workers whose hard work keeps the wheels of a country’s economy turning. The CWS noted that one of the immediate tasks the new administration must accomplish is to abolish anti-labor laws that perpetuate the oppression and exploitation of workers. “We hope and pray that our future leaders will bring real societal change, change that will benefit at least our brothers and sisters in society,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, President of CWS.
But the quality of work, Pope Francis tweeted last Thursday, can only be improved if the dignity of work is protected. Today, Labor Day, is the perfect opportunity to reflect on how our vote can make this possible.
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