By: Buena Bernal
As the 2016 Philippine elections draw near, various workers’ groups seek to influence political outcomes by choosing candidates who will push for pro-worker reforms.
Long-time trade unionists Louie Corral and Gerard Seno talk about the needs of the working class, which demand political will to be met.
Corral is the executive-director of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, and Seno is the Associated Labor Unions executive vice president.
What is the labor agenda for 2016? Here are the priority areas for key reforms they say will benefit the average Filipino worker:
- Security of Tenure
Foremost of the concerns of the working class is the passage of a Security of Tenure (SOT) bill, said Seno.
Security of tenure is a constitutionally enshrined right that protects workers from termination without just cause and due process.
Alternative hiring set-ups, however, are exploited by some unscrupulous employers to misclassify workers and deny them regularization and law-mandated workers’ benefits.
At least 11 proposed laws are being heard by the House committee on labor and employment that deal mainly with workers’ job security. The measures require amending the 41-year-old Labor Code.
There are proposals to either limit or completely prohibit job contracting, a system where workers are outsourced from capitalized general contractors, as well as to limit fixed-term employment, which some employers use to hire and rehire workers for fixed periods without making them regular employees.
Seno said there must be clear criteria when contractual labor is permissible. Advocates have said contracted workers must be limited to non-core positions which are not necessary and desirable in the day-to-day operations of a company.
Permissible contracting must likewise be at a minimal level and not the norm, he added, citing factories with 80% contractuals among their assembly workers who are the core factory workers. A pending bill seeks to bring this down to 20%.
Labor Undersecretary and interim spokesperson Nicon Fameronag said the labor department has also drafted a “compromised version” of a legislation in relation to job security. The “alternative measure” takes into account the “highly contentious features and political underpinnings of the pending SOT bills.”
It shifts from registration to licensing of contractors and subcontractors, making them easier to regulate.
Multiple sources who sit at the technical working group crafting the bill said the debate has focused on the capitalization requirement for the contractors and subcontractors.
Workers’ groups want the current requirement of a P3-million paid-up capital for all contractors to increase to at least P5 million and add the same multi-million requirement in terms of the contractors’ investment to equipment.
Currently, job contracting and subcontracting is subject to regulations under Department of Labor and Employment Department Order 18-A series 2011.
It provides that both the principal and the subcontractor would be administratively liable for any labor law violations, creating shared responsibility and making a company on the lookout for labor law-compliant contractors.
Arturo Guerrero III of the Philippine Association of Legitimate Service Contractors had explained before a House panel that certain products and services are seasonal, creating the need for alternative hiring set-ups such as job contracting.
Seno said a strong political contender who may be able to galvanize support from the labor sector is someone who wants to end widespread precarious employment in the country, which likewise forces many to instead find more stable jobs overseas.
- Reliable, affordable power
Corral explained that power is a working class concern, suggesting that the country’s next leader must have a clear vision to bring down power rates and ensure its steady supply.
“Power is the principal driver of all industry roadmaps. Without power – and by that we mean reliable supply and affordable ASEAN competitive rates – there will be no new investments and there will be no new jobs,” he said.
Especially given the envisioned full integration of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic community by the end of 2015, Corral said the Philippines would need to up its game in terms of lowering public utility rates in general including power.
Corral said the way to attract investors should be through lower utility costs and upgraded skills of workers instead of lax labor standards and low pay. Many industries in developing economies attract foreign investors partly through cheap labor.
He added that workers are often the ones negatively impacted by companies cutting down costs when power rates increase.
“Existing jobs will be at risk,” he explained, as investors may opt to transfer “to countries with cheaper power rates, specifically our main competitors Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia.”
Affordable and reliable power requires greater regulation and updated rules by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), he added. He said this demands the appointment of “genuinely independent, objective regulators” – an issue that now hounds the Aquino administration.
“The silver bullet to attract new players into the power sector – more supply – and to bring about lower rates – through genuine competition – will be to subject all supply contracts of all distribution utilities to international public bidding under ERC supervision,” he explained.
He urged the international public bidding of all power supply contracts of distribution utilities like the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which passes on to consumers generation charges or the cost of producing the electricity. The generation charges are paid by power distributor Meralco to supply companies it has power supply agreements with.
“The current system leaves the choice of who its power supplier will be entirely to the private distribution sector. This is conducive to sweetheart deals and stage-managing fake power supply shortage,” Corral explained.
Earlier, Corral said power plant shutdowns should be physically inspected by a 3-party panel composed of representatives from government, civil society, and the power sector to prevent collusion attempts by power players. (READ: Tripartite inspection of power plant shutdowns sought)
Corral said the tripartite inspection will partly address power shortages and artificial inflation of rates caused by the deliberate withholding of power supply by generation companies, noting dubious simultaneous outages of power plants.
- Progressive taxation
Tax impositions must be based on ability to pay, said Seno.
He proposed that the Value Added Tax be “tweaked lower, so it doesnt impact the poor in the same way that it impacts the rich.”
Negotitated benefits through collective bargaining agreements must also be non-taxable, he said.
Unemployment insurance must likewise be provided to protect from destitution jobless workers who were laid off due to company restructuring, he added.
Laid off workers attempting to find new jobs amid the volatile labor market are made to wait for their back wages, often forced to take out loans to survive while without income. Too often, they are victimized by loan sharks in the process.
Seno said early retirement benefits must be exempt from tax as well. Currently, only mandatory retirement benefits are non-taxable.
He explained that optional retirement is often offered to workers when a company downsizes.
These same workers would likely struggle to find a new job due to widespread age discrimination in company hiring practices.
A trade unionist since 1978, Seno urged workers to approach the elections based on issues affecting them and not merely personalities.
The weight voters place on certain issues — employment, infrastructure, education, health, minority rights, etc. — can influence the weight candidates would place on these issues as they build a campaign that is focused on them. (END)