Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More madness

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.


Last Monday I wrote about House Bill 4853, otherwise known as the Security of Tenure Act. The proposed law was submitted for plenary discussion by the Committee on Labor and Employment of the House of the Representatives just before Congress went into recess early this month. HB 4853 has two counterpart measures in the Senate. The first one, Senate Bill 171 was filed by Senator Antonio F. Trillanes while Senate Bill 858 was filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada. Both Senate bills tackle the issue of security of tenure.

The Senate bills are essentially similar to HB 4853. But I must be stressed that Estrada—who is chairman of the Senate’s labor, employment and human resource development committee—and his staff seemed more open to getting inputs from as many sectors as possible and to an enlightened discussion on the matter.

The Senate bills do not contain the alarming provisions limited the number of probationary employees a company can hire at any given time to 30 percent of its total workforce. However, the Senate bills also prescribe a cap on the number of contractual employees that can be hired. Moreover, the Senate bills propose to shorten the probationary period from the current six months, to only three months; something that is untenable since it is obviously not enough time to determine an employee’s overall fitness for a job or conversely, an company’s suitability as an employer.

What we can glean from all these is that there is, undeniably, a concerted effort to push the measure.

Actually there were originally eight bills filed in the House of Representatives and four bills filed in the Senate, each one crafted supposedly to protect security of tenure of employees. Unfortunately, all of these bills operate from the same basic and faulty paradigm, which is that the goal of protecting the security of tenure of employees can only be achieved by curtailing the flexibility of employers. In short, the goal of promoting the welfare of employees cannot be pursued hand in hand with promoting business interests.

The reality is that there are already more than enough laws in this country that protect security of tenure of employees. The problem is that just like in other areas of our national life, we are very lax in terms of ensuring strict compliance to the laws.

This same generalization can be applied to our problems with traffic congestion, tax collection, agrarian reform, etc. There are more than enough laws to make things work. Unfortunately, strict implementation of our laws and ensuring strict compliance to them has never been one of our stronger suits. And to make matters worst, when things go wrong our default response is to create more laws, which only tend to complicate matters some more.

The other reality that is staring us in the face, which our legislators do not seem to comprehend, is that the proposed measure on security of tenure actually addresses only those employed in the formal sector, which comprises less than six million of the 32 million or so workers in this country. More than 76 percent of the total workforce in this country work in the informal sector comprised of those who are self-employed, subcontracted home-workers, informal employees in family-operated farms or businesses, unpaid family workers, uncounted numbers of workers toiling under the boundary system such as drivers, and domestic workers employed by households. The vast majority of workers do not stand to benefit from any such legislation.

If we truly want to do something to effectively address the welfare of workers in this country, we need to acquire a more macro, more comprehensive, and definitely more strategic perspective of the problem.

***

The news items that greeted us as we emerged out of the shadows of typhoon Falcon were stories about the President’s latest attempts at trying to be cute (which, incidentally, bordered on the politically incorrect) and the uproar over the mass same-sex wedding ceremony held in Baguio City.

Speaking at a formal ceremony to launch a Korean-operated power plant in Cebu last Monday, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III once again made public his fondness for pretty ladies. Media noted that the bachelor President’s wandering eye zeroed in particularly on television and radio personality Grace Lee. He capped his playful dissertation by saying that he should revive the Malacanan Palace in Cebu so he can find his lifelong partner amidst an area predominated by beautiful women.

I am sure a number of pundits and media commentators will be criticizing the President’s latest pronouncement related to his love life. Just a few months ago, Mr. Aquino publicly whined about media’s preoccupation with his personal life. It’s really ironic that the President has no qualms about inviting attention to the very same issue that he finds disdainful. Simply put, if the President does not want media to keep on speculating about the state of his love life, he should simply stop making references to it in his public speeches.

There were also lots of enraged faces and a surfeit of righteous indignation in the last two days over the fact that a number of same-sex couples “tied the knot” in ceremonies solemnized by the Metropolitan Community Church, a global religious community that blesses the union of same-sex couples. A local bishop condemned the ceremony while a sputtering local executive declared it illegal and immoral.

Why are we wasting energy and precious media attention debating over the legality of such unions? Of course the wedding ceremony was not legal— the laws in this country do not recognize same-sex unions. I don’t think the same-sex couples had any pretentions about the ceremony being legal and binding. I also don’t get why people are enraged over the fact that some citizens made a public declaration of their sexual orientation—last I heard, this is still a country that recognizes certain freedoms. The couples underwent a religious ceremony that is allowed under the tenets of their religious community; don’t we have religious freedom in this country as well?

And,pray tell, exactly how do same-sex couples threaten the stability of heterosexual marriages in this country? It’s not as if heterosexual people will suddenly change their sexual orientation and decide to enter into same-sex marriages just because some same-sex couples underwent a religious ceremony of their own.

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