When Ferdinand Marcos Jr. campaigned for the presidency, one of the main focuses of his platform was to address the woes of the working sector by prioritizing the passage of the Security of Tenure Act.
Over a year has passed since he took on the role as president, yet for contract of service (COS) workers such as 49-year-old Xavier Buncan, their working conditions have only worsened. Despite serving for six years in the Policy and Planning Service Department of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), Buncan and his five other colleagues were demoted without due process. “Kaya nilang gawin 'yon kasi in government, ‘pag contractual ka, wala ka,” said Buncan.
The resulting vulnerability of unjustly demoted and contractual workers inside NAPC contrasts the agency’s mission of creating a poverty and inequality-free Philippines. Despite bearing most of the burden of serving numerous sectors, contractual workers at NAPC and other government agencies are the ones experiencing job insecurity and unfair demotions.
As of June 30, an estimated 832,800 government agency personnel were employed under job order (JO) and COS statuses, the Civil Service Commission's (CSC) recent Inventory of Government Human Resources report found. JO and COS workers are government personnel lacking a formal employer-employee relationship with the hiring agency.
For Buncan, the nature of a no-employer-employee relationship is a great challenge for COS workers who have been in service for years. “We consider ourselves as government employees, as we perform the same functions as regular employees in government. Pero pagdating sa benefits at sa security of tenure, hindi kami pareho,” said Buncan.
JO and COS personnel lack benefits like a 13th-month bonus, insurance, overtime pay, and paid leaves. Moreover, their short-term contracts, lasting up to three months for JO workers and six months for COS workers, can be easily terminated by their respective government agencies.
“Sa bawat palit ng secretary, palaging may mawawalan ng trabaho o mababawasan ‘yung sahod mo. Palaging may mga ide-demote at susubukan nilang tanggalin ‘yung mga COS,” said Roxanne Fernandez, a former COS worker from NAPC and now spokesperson of Kawani Laban sa Kontraktwalisasyon.
Buncan and his five other colleagues were immediately demoted when new NAPC Secretary Lope Santos III came, reducing Buncan’s salary from P49,000 per month to P36,000. Article VII of the Republic Act No. 2260, Section 33 states that the grounds for demotion are dishonesty, oppression, misconduct, neglect of duty, crime, immoral conduct, and other similar actions.
According to Buncan, the demotion was given to them due to an undisclosed “review and evaluation.” Because they were only made aware of their demotions a week before their contract renewals, they were not given a chance to contest them. Despite sending a letter to Secretary Santos to clarify the nature of their demotion, the demoted personnel were ignored and deprived of any explanation from the agency.
The threats secretaries impose on their workers is one that also violates their human dignity. Buncan shared the humiliation COS workers experience when their contracts are waved at their faces, and how they are threatened with non-renewal if they do not drop their complaints against the agency. “Yung buhay namin hawak nila,” he said. Demotions and lack of security of tenure for COS workers are tactics that exploit low-income workers and significantly worsen the working environment within government agencies. For Fernandez, this is not a new experience for contractual.
In September 2018, former President Rodrigo Duterte endorsed the Security of Tenure Bill, initially raising hopes of ending labor contractualization. The bill aimed to reclassify most employees as regular workers, excluding seasonal or project-based employees. However, Duterte vetoed the bill the next year, citing concerns about its potential impact on businesses. A 2016 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies found that ending contractualization could increase company costs by 30 to 40 percent.
Although eliminating contractualization might cost the government more, there is evidence of underspending amongst government agencies, which raises questions about why contractual workers cannot become regular employees.
During a Senate briefing on the 2024 budget, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman stated that in the first half of 2023, only P2.4 trillion of the allocated P2.5 trillion is disbursed, leading to P170.5 billion in unutilized funds. Pangandaman attributed this underspending to ongoing program implementation, procurement challenges such as late goods delivery, failed auctions and supplier problems, and other issues such as substantial outstanding checks.
Fernandez and Buncan emphasized the inefficient spending of departments, noting that higher-ups in government agencies find different ways to spend their budgets on non-essentials instead of projects that benefit their sectors. “Hindi nagta-translate yung trabaho ng government diretso sa mamamayang Pilipino. Madaming pasikot-sikot, maraming kainan o pagtutulog sa hotel para magkaroon ng batas ang isang polisiya,” said Fernandez.
JO and COS workers continuously face the consequences of government officials spending funds irresponsibly. Amidst these issues, Marcos Jr. has yet to make an action to address the plea of contractual workers.
“The silence about the wage increase, ending contractualization, and recognizing the right to organize are so deafening, workers can hear the silence with their empty stomachs and overworked bodies,” said the Federation of Free Workers in response to the president’s latest State of the Nation Address.
Rather than resorting to contractual workers and job orders for cost-cutting measures in government agencies, it is imperative to establish policies that ensure equitable salaries and comprehensive support for all government personnel. Additionally, implementing stringent policies is vital to safeguard the rights of current contractual workers.
Data from the CSC revealed that 642,077 non-permanent government workers, composed of 493,900 under JO and 148,100 on a contractual basis, coexist with over 170,800 unfilled permanent government positions.
Acknowledging the essential role played by contract employees in various government sectors that only receive limited benefits and privileges, the state must provide COS workers, who have shown their vital role in public service, with the opportunity to attain a regular employment status.
“Kahit doblehin o triplehin yung sahod mo, kapag wala kang security of tenure, pwede kang ibalewala. Kung P90,000 sahod mo ngayon pero wala kang trabaho bukas, balewala 'yon,” said Fernandez. The administration must make resolute efforts to eliminate labor contractualization, be it through a comprehensive reassessment of government budgets or the consolidation of bills that unequivocally promote the regularization of contractual employees. ●
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