FOR more than three decades, the Labor Code of the Philippines, Presidential decree 442, has been the governing law between employers and workers in the private sector. Over the years, there have been changes as far the labor practices are concerned raising the need to amend the code in order in order to ensure the protection of workers and employers.
Enacted during the martial law era of then President Ferdinand Marcos, the code is composed of a preliminary title and seven books: pre-employment; human resources development program; conditions of employment; health, safety and social welfare benefits; labor relations; post employment, and; transitory and final provisions.
The Labor Code from a legal perspective seems to be fair and distinctly pro-labor because the code was designed to provide protection to labor, promote employment and human resources development and insure industrial peace based on social justice.
However, just like other laws, the Labor Code also has its flaws. The primary problem lies in its implementation notwithstanding other flaws which legislators have been trying to address though amendment.
Over the years there have been various amendments that have been introduced and subsequently enacted into law but some lawmakers still believe that the law still needs to undergo major overhaul in order for it to fully provide the needed protection of employees.
For Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the current chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment & Human Resource Development, the code needs a major overhaul in order to update, unify and simplify government policies on labor, employment and human resource development.
But while waiting for the needed revisions on the code, reforms in certain areas needs to be immediately addressed and that is why proposed legislations have been introduced by Estrada while he was chair of the committee.
So far six labor related bills of Estrada have been enacted into law. These are:
• RA 10151 or an act allowing the employment of night workers;
• RA 10022 – an act amending the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995;
• RA 9547 – an act strengthening and expanding the coverage of the special program for employment of students;
• RA 9481 – an act strengthening the workers’ constitutional right to self-organization;
• RA 9422 – an act to strengthen the regulatory functions of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA);
• RA 9347 — an act rationalizing the composition and functions of the National Labor Relations Commission; and
• RA 10361 – an act instituting policies for the protection and welfare of domestic workers
There are other legislations that have been introduced both in the Senate and the House of Representatives that have yet to be passed and most of the proposals are aimed at promoting the welfare of Filipino workers here and aboard.
But lawmakers are not the only ones who have been looking for ways to further improve the labor code. Various labor organizations have been calling on the government to address major issues being faced by workers in the private sector, particularly the rampant violations on the code committed by employers.
From the standpoint of the Bukluran ng Mangagawang Pilipino (BMP), one of the country’s biggest militant labor organizations, the Labor Code of the Philippines, is pro-labor however just like other existing laws that problem lies on its implementation.
Contractualization is one of the major issues which according to BMP, must be seriously addressed by the Aquino government because the practice deliberately denies workers of security in terms of tenure and benefits.
Contractualization employed by most companies are already wreaking havoc on the lives of Filipino workers and the labor sector has been confronted by this problem even from the previous administration, but the Aquino government seems to be not doing enough to address it.
Although the labor code allows the hiring of contractual workers, such practice should only be done seasonally meaning when an employer needs additional workers who could work for a short period of time like during Christmas season or harvest season.
However, some businessmen particularly those in the retail sector are circumventing the law and hire contractual workers year round.
The continued practice of labor contractualization, wherein employees are given only five-month contracts and just renewing their contracts the moment it expires, is one way small and large businesses managed to avoid the law.
But the malpractice in not unique in the Philippines, in fact contractualization is also rampant in other countries depriving workers of their right to job security.
In our country many contractual workers are in business process outsourcing (BPO), wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and construction.
According to the BMP, apart from being denied job security, contract workers are also prohibited from joining labor unions and enjoy benefits given to union members.
Under the law it is the policy of the State to promote the free and responsible exercise of the right to self-organization through the establishment of a simplified mechanism for the speedy registration of labor unions and workers associations, determination of representation status and resolution of inter/intra-union and other related labor relations disputes.
But BMP and other labor organization in the country still consider the right of to self-organization as one of the major issues in the Labor Code because of the risky and tedious process of union organizing.
The code requires unions to submit voluminous documents for registration which is considered totally unnecessary. Union leaders also find the Labor Code provision risky because they are open to company retaliation and suppression of rights.
The problems still exists despite the enactment of the Republic Act (RA) 9481 or an act strengthening the workers’ constitutional right to self-organization in 2007. The BMP claimed that law is useless and it has not changed anything as far as the tedious process of registering labor union is concern.
RA 9481 was enacted to relax and lessen strict and complex prerequisites for union recognition and the grounds for its cancellation as well as the accreditation of labor federations, but it seems that the implementing rule and regulations of the law somehow managed to “dilute” its true intention.
The right to strike
Title VIII, book V of the Labor Code recognizes the right to strike in case of bargaining deadlocks, and unfair labor practices committed by the employer. However, a trade union is required to give advance notice, respect mandatory cooling off periods, and obtain the agreement of a majority (50 percent plus one vote) of its members.
Labor organizations viewed the requirements as ways to dispel the right to strike and the efficiency of the union to gain considerable advantages. It also prevents unions from carrying out a strike because of the need to get the majority vote of its members no matter how grave the issues are.
The harsh penalties for strikers especially it’s leaders who participate in a strike is also considered as a way of discouraging workers from joining strikes, which is a right given to laborers.
What needs to be done?
The Labor Code of the Philippines will be turning 40 on May 1, 2014, but the planned major overhaul of the law seems to be out of the list of priority bills of either houses of Congress, although lawmakers are expected to come up with their respective proposed legislation amending certain provisions on the code.
As for militant labor groups amendments on the Labor Code should be introduced in order to further promote the rights of the workers not only in the private sector but also workers in the public sector.
BMP for its part is pushing for the absolute freedom to organize all workers in private sector and employees in the public sector under unions and political organizations.
The group wants all restrictions that hinder the workers’ organizing efforts be removed and criminalize the violations against labor laws and labor.
Also sought is the absolute right to strike for all workers in public and private enterprises, not only for the economic demands but for political issues. These rights include general strikes and sympathy strikes.
The government should also implement to the fullest the constitutional right to work of every worker and their security of tenure and criminalize contractualization and labor flexibilization.
Also, companies which declare themselves bankrupt must open all accounts and documents.
The Labor Code of the Philippines is a law enacted to direct employers on how to treat their workers properly while serving as workers’ defense against abusive employers in the private sector.
Although there have been many laws enacted that defend workers against exploitation, employees continue to suffer labor malpractices imposed by business owners.
The country has enough labors laws that will ensure the rights of all Filipino workers. Unfortunately the lack of capability on the part of the government to make sure that business establishments are complying with the code is the main reason workers continue to suffer.
In some cases, workers are aware of the violation of their employer but choose to turn a blind eye for fear of losing their job.