The trolley problem puts readers in a moral dilemma of choosing to kill five individuals for the life of one or vice-versa. The choice one makes in regard to the life of one person and the overall utility involved in saving the majority speaks volumes of how humanity is perceived and acted upon when caught in the rails. Either human life is regaled as ends to themselves or merely as means to achieve a certain end.
We currently face a similar moral question as to how we treat human lives. Albeit not strapped to the tracks, they are constrained by the rails of life and work.
Contractualization remains unregulated by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) after the signing of the Department Order 174. The Labor code states a trilateral agreement between laborer, contractor, and principal. The laborer does the actual work, the contractor takes responsibility for the work, and the principal gives out job orders. This all started when Department Order 10 of 1997 introduced the concept of contracting and sub-contracting. Employers were given the flexibility of hiring short-term workers. The number of short-term employees increased. Soon, regular employees were slowly replaced. Laborers were forced to choose between unemployment or miserable employment; with many opting for the latter. In 2017, Department Order 174 was still unable to address contracting and abuse even with the pleas of the workers.
Consumeristic empires sidestep the law when it puts up third party companies to outsource its employees needed for its business. This is called labor-only contracting as these third party companies have no control over the means and ends of the workers as they simply become the source of additional hands for the principal. Now, whenever the principal company dislikes one of its employees and wishes to have them fired (normally for no justifiable action), they would simply inform the seemingly errant employee to await further assignment at home, while they replace him with another provided by the third party company. The waiting goes on for months and when he finally complains that he is not being given pay, the principal company bears no liability because he was never an employee of theirs to begin with; such rights belonging to the labor only contractor. This grand scheme succeeds when the public is unable to find the legal link between the principal and the contractor.
What is so deplorable about contractualization is its sheer neglect of the labor principle of security of tenure. Simply put, security of tenure is the constitutional right to guaranteed employment except for just and authorized causes. That’s to say that an individual hired for a job cannot be simply removed at the whim of his immediate supervisor just because he dislikes his personal character or the color of the tie he wore for the day. The wisdom behind such fundamental right lies in the humanistic condition of being treated not as properties that can be acquired and disposed of naturally, but as humans who find work necessary and meaningful in the societal dynamics of fair play and earning your keep.
Yet, let us explore the counter-factual. More than providing security of tenure, the opportunity to even be employed is an objective that the economy should account for. If contractualization was immediately illegalized in the Philippines, companies would shoulder government benefits such as SSS, PhilHealth, and Pag-Ibig funds for all employees. High overtime and holiday pays would integrate itself in costing. In hindsight, businesses of all sizes would be affected; affecting sales and sustainability. SM, for instance, houses hundreds of employees per mall and it would seem more than likely that they would continue hiring more workers at their hefty price. It becomes even worse for small to medium enterprises who are just starting to find footing in the industry. Just like US and European countries, local companies could resort to cheaper labor pools abroad.
Moreover, because there are only a handful number of jobs for a growing number of work driven individuals, ending contractualization would mean committing long term to only a small group of people. This leaves the growing population with less opportunities to find work, especially for the under qualified i.e. highschool graduates. Even if we expect the economy to grow to accommodate more workers, the rate at which it expands is usually only secondary to that of a rising workforce.
Ergo, while labor conditions, financial stability, and job security would definitely improve, it remains to be the ideal. Thinking of it in black and white removes the nuances that contribute to the issue. Immediate regularization is difficult, yet it exposes the duality of the situation: Contractualization provides companies flexibility and regularization provides employees stability. A slow transition to a proportional employment of regulars and contractuals can provide an easier transition for the economy. This can be extended to be a function of company size. This can give both parties opportunities to continue growth without compromising each other.
Much like the trolley problem, there is no objective right or wrong answer in contractualization; only alternatives where families are hurt and lost either way. Yet, until we find the most optimal situation for the country, we can only hope that it won’t be too late once we do.