Rules on contractualization signed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) - The government has finally signed Department Order 174, the much-awaited rules on contractualization.

But even with ink still fresh on paper, protests have already begun.

From the get go, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello says he has no power to abolish contractual work - the major demand of workers' groups.

The most he can do, is to make sure sure these schemes aren't abused to deny workers their rights.

DO 174 bans practices like labor-only contracting and outsourcing work due to a strike.

It also bans employers from making their workers sign agreements like post-dated resignation letters and waivers for minimum wage and welfare benefits.

Perhaps most important of all, DO 174 explicitly calls out the so-called "555" or "endo" schemes - the repeated hiring of workers on five-month contracts so employers don't need to regularize them on the sixth month.

All other practices designed to circumvent the law and withhold workers' rights are also banned.

In his speech, Bello said, "In addition, I've requested for a plantilla of additional 200 inspectors, labor law inspectors. Kasi kailangan namin 'yan [Because we need that]...we are inspecting almost 900,000 business establishments throughout the country."

Outside the DOLE headquarters though, protesters made their anger known.

DO 174 still recognizes manpower agencies - as long as they are registered every two years and put up a capital of P5 million.

Workers say companies can avoid regularizing them if agencies will absorb them anyway.

Jose Sonny Matula, president of Federation of Free Workers National, said, "So katulad ng kooperatiba na may P5 million na kapital at sabihin nila na regular sila sa kooperatiba, pero ang ginagawa nila katulad din ng ginagawa ng factory workers na regular. So may discrimination pa din diyan."

[Translation: So like the cooperatives who have a capital of P5 million and say that they are regular in the cooperative, but what they're doing is similar to what regular factory workers are doing. Discrimination is still present.]

The DOLE admits it had to make compromises just to get the order out.

The National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council did not give its approval to DO 174 since it could not get government, business, and labor leaders to agree.

"Ideally, magkakaroon po ng (there is a) consensus. Pero if there is an impasse or there is a deadlock, it's up to the Secretary to make a decision.'Yun po 'yung nangyari ngayon (That is what is happening now) with respect to this department order," Bureau of Labor Relations Director Benjo Benavides said.

More nationwide protests are scheduled next week.

Activists say the fight continues especially since the end of contractualization was promised to them by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself.