Is Congress Ready for a Radical Bill?

A bill is headed for an uphill battle in Congress. The bill, filed by Bayan Muna Rep. Liza Largoza-Maza, seeks to repeal some Labor Code provisions and gives a slice of power to the country’s millions of workers. But it is a measure that will certainly be opposed by Employers' Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and by Congress’ anti-labor members.


A bill is pending in Congress that, if considered by its members, may give capitalists and leaders of ECOP irritating and sleepless nights. If passed – and this is a big IF – in Congress, it may yet reverse controversial provisions of the Labor Code and give the country’s millions of workers – women included – some sense of victory.

This radical bill could only come from Congress’ neophyte Party-list and which every Arroyo loyalist and defense officials wish it never topped last year’s elections – Bayan Muna. Main author of the bill is Rep. Liza Largoza-Maza, luminary of Gabriela, an alliance of women which every corporate owner, particularly Shoemart’s Henry Sy, would want to lay its hands on. Co-authoring the bill are Reps. Crispin Beltran, another labor leader, and Satur Ocampo.

The bill’s heading itself would send shivers or anger to many Congress’ pro-business stalwarts: “Strengthening the Right to Security of Tenure, Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof, Amending Pertinent Portions of the Labor Code, and for Other Purposes.”

The Maza bill takes its rationale from the 1987 Constitutional provision which calls for the state’s promotion of “full employment” for the people, the protection of the rights of workers and their welfare and the guarantee of job security.

Regular from the start

Under the bill, all employees or workers are deemed regular from the time they begin working with a company or office. The employer cannot terminate the services of an employee without a just cause otherwise the employee concerned will be reinstated without loss of seniority rights including full back wages and allowances.

The bill further revokes one of the thorniest policies in the labor front for decades: It calls for the repeal of Article 281 of the Labor Code – a code that was passed under martial law or under abnormal conditions. The article legalizes probationary and casual employment.

Violations of the proposed Act will warrant stiff fines and/or imprisonment.

A take-off of the bill is the fact that an average 10% of the labor force remains jobless at any time while unemployment rates have progressively risen to as high as 16.6% in October last year.

Representative Maza, in her bill, reveals that violations of the employees’ right to security of tenure are widespread in export industries, construction, agribusiness and utilities as well as wholesale and retail businesses. In these industries, she notes, contractualization and labor-only contracting under different guises “continue to be the rule more than the exception.”

For instance, the former Gabriela secretary-general says, 90% of about 20,000 workers in Shoemart (SM) nationwide, most of them salesladies and store personnel, are employed as contractual workers for five months. Beyond that, workers should look for other jobs. This itself violates the Labor Code which grants regular employment to newly-hired workers after a six-month probation, she says.

At Mode International where as in SM most workers are women, employees are asked to enlist in “workers’ cooperatives.” Because of this scheme, Mode – maker of Osh Kosh, GAP, Girbaud and Tommy Hilger signature garments – is not bound by the employer-employee relationship and hence, by provisions that entitle workers a regular pay and benefits.

DO 18-02

Contractualization and labor-only contracting became the vogue in industrial employment under the regime of globalization policies begun by the Ramos presidency. But the Arroyo government appears to have further eliminated limited prospects of getting a regular job under the labor department’s DO (or department order) 18-02.

Issued by Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas last February, DO 18-02 further legitimizes the system of contractualization and sub-contracting particularly under conditions where there are principal, contractor or sub-contractor.

DO 18-02 has been denounced by labor organizations, particularly the Koalisyon Laban sa Kontraktwalisasyon (KLK). In a critique of the Sto. Tomas order, KLK says that the directive only aims to check abuses rampant in the contractualization and sub-contracting scheme. But it does not abolish the system which happens to be the culprit behind the rising unemployment and the lack of job security, the coalition says.

What is abhorrent, KLK further says, is that it makes it appear that contractualization and sub-contracting guarantee the worker’s security of tenure.

Ironically, DO 18-02 does not cover industries where a sizeable number of workers – particularly women – are employed. These include electronics, textile, services and retail (such as SM). Here, tens of thousands of women workers remain under the mercy of being hired directly by the companies under the system of contractualization or sub-contracting.

To these workers – and tens of thousands of others in other industries – there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. That is, if the Maza bill is passed.