Why can’t we unionize manpower agencies?



THAT’S one sensitive question which many of us are afraid to ask for fear that one can be branded as “stupid.” But isn’t much better to ask a stupid question than to give a stupid answer?

For that, I dared to ask such stupid question to Atty Pol Sangalang, who is one of my newest partners on labor-management public education.

He retorts: “Agency employees have the right to form unions and the right to collectively bargain with the manpower agency. That’s guaranteed under D.O.18-A. But due to their short tenure (of employment with the agency), the employees have no motivation to organize themselves.”

To give us a wider perspective, I asked the same “stupid” question to Atty Joann Canete, another young superstar on labor relations. “Unionizing manpower agency employees is a scary solution. We don’t want to go back to the days when unions were so powerful and strikes were right and left,” says Atty Canete of San Beda College of Law.

On the other hand, Atty Domingo Anonuevo, a big-time union counsel and a faculty member at De La Salle College of Law has this to say: “The only way to stamp out pernicious contracting is to restrict it to specific services, i.e. janitorial, messengerial, security, relievers, etc. and to other jobs that are not regular, as (it is) defined by law….All other proposals are palliative.”

I also asked the same question to Atty Josephus Jimenez, former labor undersecretary and a corporate veteran on labor-management relations. He gave a macro, but indirect view: “Let’s engage (the) government and put forward each stakeholder’s position. Then look at the greater interest of the whole nation, not the narrow interests of greedy businessmen.”

The government thrust against contractualization has become hot topic since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. For one, the labor department has repeatedly announced it is in the proactive process of reducing the number of “endo” (systematic hiring and ending) of workers’ contract system by 50 percent this year, and 100 percent by 2017.

Contractualization has grown leaps and bounds with the proliferation of manpower agencies and cooperatives that provides unlimited supply of temporary workers to organizations since time immemorial, decades earlier than the 70s when I worked as an agency worker while deployed as a messenger-collector at a commercial bank, at the time when I was trying to earn a college diploma.

Currently, the labor department calculates there are “5,150 registered contractors and subcontractors deploying more than 416,000 worker to not less than 26,000 principals,” as reported by business.inquirer.net.

The stakeholders—employers group, trade unions, and two government agencies—labor and trade departments are now working to come out with the win-win solution. Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez explains that to put an end to “endo” practice, it is proposing that manpower agencies convert the employment status of their workers into regular status entitled to all statutory pay and benefits.

The second approach is through outsourcing where a service provider provides a pool of talents to their client-companies under a project arrangement.

However, the Trade Union Confederation of the Philippines sees the DTI “win-win” proposal as an “absurdity” within the context of the legal minimum P3 million capitalization required of manpower agencies. It is a “ridiculously miniscule” amount, says Gerard Seno of TUCP. This is not to mention that many service providers “are characterized by having limited equipment.”

“There is no assurance that the agency’s “regular” workers will be able to collect legally mandated separation, retirement and healthcare benefits, once the contract of an agency with its principal is terminated. Effectively this leaves the so-called “regular” employee of the agency unemployed,” says Atty Seno.

And so why can’t TUCP organize unions of “regular” workers of manpower agencies? After all, it’s a noble cause, I badgered him. The answer was clear and succinct: “It is not easy for us. Employers and manpower agencies will immediately terminate their contract once the employees decide to register a union.”

In other words, unionizing “regular” employees of manpower agencies is a futile act. Now, there’s one stupid question remaining: “How many provisions of D.O.18-A can be categorized as pointless or ineffectual?”

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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