EVERY person has the right to rise, like sunrise parting the clouds of social inequity and poverty. This right includes just compensation, security of tenure, and social protection–all rights that define dignity of labor. Unfortunately, the right to rise to one’s fullest potential and earn a decent wage for the welfare of one’s family is compromised when he or she is not even classified as an employee. When government does this to its own citizens, then the very essence of public service is bastardized.
With his background in landscaping, a quiet, hardworking man–let’s call him “Celso”–worked for a local government unit in Metro Manila. For several years, he had kept the grounds green, clean, and healthy. Sometimes, he worked longer hours, especially when there was an event that would require his assistance. One day, he came to see me and I thought we would be discussing an OFW case concerning his sister. It turned out that he had his own share of troubles as well.
“Celso” told me that he earned only P5,000 a month. I had to repeat the figure, to which he nodded with an embarrassed smile. He said that it had been the practice of the local government to hire him and others like him as a J.O. or “Job Order,” tied by a simple contract with no actual pay slips and other prescribed social protection benefits other than the monthly cash allotment of P5,000. Yet, he worked everyday, and had his attendance checked just like the other employees. He was on call, and had been serving the municipality faithfully.
He asked whether he and his other co-workers were entitled to a minimum wage. Of course, I said. I gave the number of the labor department’s hotline and advised him to seek advice. The person at the receiving end of the call instructed “Celso” to file a complaint with the Civil Service Commission (CSC), which he did. However, the CSC said the agency has no jurisdiction over him. He was not an organic government employee.
Somehow, the local government came to know about the landscaper’s grievance. He was terminated without cause, without prior notice. How many “Celsos” are out there? Annie Geron, one of the pillars of public sector unionism as the head of PSLink, has estimated that some 500,000 workers are employed by the national and local governments on a “contractual” or “job order” basis. Who has jurisdiction over these “workers”? Annie said this has been a perpetual dilemma for the public sector. “If they are not government workers then they should be covered by the Labor Code. Unfortunately, the employer-employee relationship is not clear because of the nature of the contract.”
Government cannot speak about job creation and yet be silent about duplicitous contracts that exact skills from people it continually hires and yet fails to protect or even recognize as employees. It cannot speak out against all forms of discrimination and yet practice the worst kind of discrimination against “invisible” workers under its care and supervision.
I shared Celso’s story with a government official. He said that since the contract was periodically renewed then the case could not be classified as “endo,” or the practice of terminating a worker’s contract before six months to evade the Labor Code’s rule on regularization. I thought, yes, but isn’t this even worse than “endo”? The act of renewal, while favorable to the worker, also institutionalizes a form of slave labor by government itself. For lack of better employment options, the “worker” sticks it out, contract after contract, never getting anywhere while being grossly underpaid for honest work.
They attend flag ceremonies. They are covered by the same memos, and must observe civil service rules. They are government employees but they are neither formally with government or officially, employees. They follow the chain of command, in whatever executive or local unit they have been “contracted” to serve. And yet, they are not workers.
They will never be workers, unless a law is passed for their protection, dignity and welfare.
We all seek to be part of an achieving society, where hardworking individuals can rise, and soar, and be the best in their respective fields. Government needs to be there to encourage, not impede, such progress. However, if in nearly all personnel files, you have skeletons of unfair labor practices rattling the box, our government needs to stop the hypocrisy.
I pray that President Duterte will be the first President to end unfair labor practices in government. I hope that legislation will be passed to end the sufferings of people like Celso. I urge everyone to consider the plight of job-order workers in government while efforts are under way to end “endo” in the private sector.
We have no moral compass to show as a nation unless we find a long-term solution to blatant labor violations in and by government.