Not too long ago, rallies protesting the practice were rather common. Unfortunately, nothing significant would come from them. For the unaware, contractualization is a common business practice characterized by keeping employees under short-term contracts and not classifying them as “regular employees.” Corporations, especially larger ones, do this as a means to cut down on the cost of labor. There are entire companies in the Philippines dedicated to finding people willing to become contractual workers and acting as middlemen between them and large corporations.
But what exactly is wrong with contractualization? Logic will dictate that lower labor costs means more people can get hired and a job is a job. The problem with contractualization is that these contractual workers are treated not as regular employees. Aside from the fact that these contracts are very short term, companies are not obligated to provide benefits to non-employees.
These contracts typically span only a few months, unlike how most people would think of a contract’s duration is. The short-term nature of the contracts ensures that contractuals never have long-term job security. Contractualization has become so endemic that the lowest rung of any corporation is completely contractualized. Phone operators? Contractualized. Fast food workers? Contractualized. Supermarket employees? Contractualized. The list goes on and on and on.
For Anna Rose, a supermarket employee at one of the country’s largest corporations, it is her first time being a contractual worker, and unfortunately it isn’t her last. At 22 years old and already on her third month of a 5-month long contract, Anna Rose is looking to work as many jobs as she can in order to save up not just for her family’s future, but for hers as well.
“Gusto mong mag-aral pero di ka makapag-aral kasi nga walang budget, so kailangan talaga mag-trabaho para may mapakain din sa pamilya,” (I want to study but I can’t because I don’t have the money so I really have to work to feed my family) she says. While her dreams of attaining a proper college education have been put on hold, she firmly states that she would do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to be in the future.
“Kaya nga ako nagtatrabaho siguro kasi para na sa kinabukasan ko na rin kasi gusto ko talaga makapagtapos ng pag-aaral, so ipon lang ng ipon,” (That’s why I work to have a good future. I really want to finish school so I just have to save and save) she says, smiling all the while.
When asked about her working conditions, the petite and rather timid woman was not afraid to speak up, confessing, “Minimum wage lang ako, tas isang araw lang sa isang linggo ang off ko. Mahirap man, eh ganun talaga eh wala na akong magagawa.” (I only earn the minimum wage and only once a week do I have my day off. It’s hard but that’s life. I can’t do anything about it).
To have to endure such wearisome circumstances would push any individual to their limit, with the most inconvenient part of it all being the fact that these people work at jobs that offer little to no financial stability or security. After a contract ends, there is no definite timeframe for how long a person has to wait to get hired again.
Anna Rose shares, “Mahirap kasi pagkatapos mo dito wala ka nang trabaho ulit, maghahanap ka na ng bagong trabaho ulit tas sakit lang sa ulo.” (What’s hard after the [contract] is that I won’t have a job again. I’ll have to look for a new one, which would just be another pain.)
End of contract
On the other hand, while she was indeed a contractual worker not long ago, 24-year-old Maricris now works continuously as a saleslady in a department store, saying, “Di na kami contractual dito, pero dati oo. Ngayon continuous na kami dahil panibago na yung process kasi iba na yung president natin.” (Here, we’re no longer contractual but we used to. We’re all continuous now because we have a new process brought by our new president).
With the new administration, the move to end contractualization once and for all was not as successful as people had hoped, but it still paved the way for important changes to the labor constitution nonetheless.
According to an online article posted back in March by Rappler, a new order containing stricter regulations regarding contractualization was signed by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello IIII. While it brings society a step closer to ending contractualization, it “still left labor groups dismayed as they want all forms of contractualization banned.”
Bello has also stated that in order for our country to be rid of labor contractualization completely, the Congress itself would have to make numerous changes to the laws currently in place.
In spite of the fact that Maricris is thankful to have been part of the lucky few to be set free from contractualization, she is still looking for bigger and brighter things ahead. “Sa ngayon, okay pa naman ako sa trabaho ko pero gusto ko rin mag-abroad kasi nga yung kinikita dito di naman ganun kalaki, pang-sapat lang sa family,” (As of right now, I’m ok with my job but I also want to work abroad cause the amount I earn here is only enough for my family) she shares.
Left with no choice
The sad reality in the Philippines is that the common worker does not have the luxury of turning down a contractual job, despite how intentionally unfair the terms of the said contract are. Faced with the challenges of providing for their families, the Filipino worker must take any port in a storm.
There really is no upside to contractualization on the side of the employee, while employers would be hard pressed to find a better deal besides slavery. Unfortunately, contractualized labor falls into the gap of what is considered technically legal abounding with corporate greed lives within that gap.
The harsh reality of the business world is that the altruistic corporation is a rare beast; left in their own hands, it is highly likely that contractualization will never end. While the new regulations have drawn first blood against contractualization, it is still very much alive and well. It would take a concerted effort on the part of our lawmakers to deal the killing stroke and put an end to the institutionalized disenfranchisement of droves of Filipinos, who are simply just trying to make a living.