LAST WEDNESDAY I went to the House of Representatives for the Committee on Labor’s Technical Working Group meeting on the Magna Carta of Workers in Informal Economy bill. Outside of reproductive health, MACWIE is my organization’s other major legislative advocacy initiative.
Our general understanding of the word “worker” is limited to one who is formally employed. Someone who has a definite employer, workplace, regularity of work, or covered by our labor laws.
We do not see the 18 to 25 million (according to the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines and the Department of Labor and Employment) people who do not fall under the “formal employment” category. Ever wondered how laundry women, tricycle and other drivers, vendors, waste-pickers (scavengers), construction workers, farmers, fisherfolk, on- call domestic workers, home-based workers, etc. manage to live?
We see but do not notice them. We use their products and services but are disinterested in them. They are the people we “use” for our comfort and needs. They are among us but they remain invisible.
Even celebrations of workers’ day, May first, exclude these tens of millions of workers. Ever heard of any government pronouncement that recognizes their contributions, makes their lives easier, or promotes their rights as workers? Virtually none.
Our labor laws do not cover workers in the informal economy. Our laws are skewed toward the protection of rights of workers in the formal sector, and have not been significantly updated to include WIE despite the size of these workers.
Estimates have it that workers in the informal economy make up about 75 percent of the country’s workforce. Most of the economically active poor are in informal employment and can hardly make both ends meet. It is literally a hand-to-mouth existence that they have.
Workers in this category do not have fixed salaries to speak of, no overtime pay, no standard on number of work hours or days, no paid leaves, no maternity benefits for women, and without any social protection. They are largely exploited by the very fact that they are not subject to existing regulations.
Moreover, these workers largely perform their economic activities under very poor and hazardous working conditions, making them vulnerable to health risks and accidents.
Women workers in the informal economy suffer more. Most of economically active women are in informal employment. Many of them are home-based workers performing their livelihood activities within or near their homes. Because they are poor, they have to perform both their traditional women’s work of tending the home and family on top of earning some money. These women workers are often subject to abuse, discrimination, and harassment by virtue of their being women.
Despite these very harsh working and living conditions, even trade unions, the so-called vanguards of workers’ rights, hardly touch workers in the informal economy. Organizing these workers is not among their priorities, even of the most militant of them.
This is because these workers are scattered and, therefore, hard and expensive to organize. There are no definite employers that unions can collectively bargain with. After all, collective bargaining agreements are quite important for unions.
Estimates of workers in the informal economy’s contributions to the country’s gross domestic product range from 30 percent to a high of 43 percent. Yet, they remain unrecognized, unvalued. Their rights remain unprotected.
If the government is serious with its war against poverty, the welfare and rights of these workers cannot be ignored. A significant number of the poorest of the poor, though they are not indigents, are in this group of workers.
It is in this light that our group, together with other WIE organizations, crafted MACWIE. This bill addresses the needs and rights of the workers in the informal economy, including labor standards that should cover them and support for entrepreneurship. The bill also deals with the question of invisibility of these workers.
Unfortunately, this is the third Congress under which the bill has been filed but it only moved in the House of Representatives. The various bills are now being consolidated into one by the Committee on Labor secretariat directly working with us.
The four MACWIE bills in the House are authored by Representatives Sonny Angara, Dan Fernandez, Erin Tañada, Emmeline Aglipay, Raymond Mendoza, and Salvador Escudero III.
At the Senate, there were also four bills filed but since former Senator Migz Zubiri resigned, only three are left authored by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Francis Escudero, and Jinggoy Estrada.
MACWIE at the Senate has not moved. The bills are under Senator Kiko Pangilinan’s Committee on Social Justice and Rural Development. Advocates have formally written and followed up the committee requesting for the bills to be discussed but efforts have so far yielded nothing.
The welfare of the 18-25 million workers rests on MACWIE. These workers should not remain invisible.
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