The Ordeal of Job Orders in the Government

Just recently, I came across this blog of young journalists who write so beautifully about various topics. As I continued reading one post after another, my attention was Now what-caught by the essays they wrote about their employment suit against GMA Network, Inc. Four of them joined a team of 110 brave journalists who decided to cry foul over GMA’s practice of hiring them on long-term and repeated contract basis, which effectively deprived them of employee benefits under the law.

Their suit was big news in the Philippines early last year and gained similarly situated journalists their much needed attention. Good news is, there are many Supreme Court decisions which can be used to their favor such as this one promulgated just this April 20, 2015, involving ABS-CBN Corporation “talents”. Bad news is, their bold move temporarily cost them their jobs.

Many job order personnel in the government face the same ordeal – repeatedly hired on yearly contracts, functioning like permanent employees (sometimes even more), but never truly allowed to belong. Their years of devoted work are not considered government service. They have no leave benefits, no overtime pay, no productivity bonuses, no 13th month pay, no calamity assistance, no employer share in mandatory contributions (SSS, PhilHealth, etc).  Agencies are quick to state that these JOs are NOT their employees but ironically insists that they follow the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for government employees.

Eight years ago, fresh out of college, I had my share of being a JO in one GOCC. There were so many of us there, some were even JOs for seven to ten years already. Because they needed to feed their families, they did not mind the practice. Our sorry state made me sick in the guts so I stopped working and decided to focus on my law studies instead.

But in 2014, there were news that President BS Aquino would put an end to this practice in the government and I, too, saw hope for the JOs. After all, Rule XI of CSC MC No. 40, s. 1998 (as amended by CSC MC. No. 15, s. 1999) specifically describes that Contracts of Service/Job Orders are those which – (1) covers lump sum work or services such as janitorial, security, or consultancy services where no employer-employee relationship exist; or (2) covers piece of work or intermittent job of short duration not exceeding six month on a daily basis. Ideally then, all others should be on permanent, temporary, casual, co-terminous, contractual, or substitute status – which are all considered government service.

I look forward to that day when the government will take the cue of the Supreme Court in its 2005 decision for Alexander Lopez et al., v. MWSS where the 4-Fold Test was applied. This test, popular in private sector labor cases, determines the existence of employer-employee relationship through four elements –

(1) whether the alleged employer has the power of selection and engagement of an employee; (2) whether he has control of the employee with respect to the means and methods by which work is to be accomplished; (3) whether he has the power to dismiss; and (4) whether the employee was paid wages.

In its decision, the Supreme Court also emphasized that the protection to labor extends to all of labor including those in the public sector, and I quote –

Protection to labor, it has been said, extends to all of labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, in the public and private sectors.Besides, there is no reason not to apply this principle in favor of workers in the government. The government, including government-owned and controlled corporations, as employers, should set the example in upholding the rights and interests of the working class.

Until the government actually decides to do that, all these “protection to labor” will be nothing but meaningless drama to JOs who deserve better.

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