NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 8 Jan) – In street marches and rallies I joined in the late 60s to the early 70s, we denounced and raged at the illegal, immoral and abusive practices of business establishments in the treatment of their workers, especially in hiring and firing them. What we ranted about and wanted the government to stop and correct in the past has unfortunately remained to this day.
Business establishments like malls, manufacturing and service firms continue to hire workers on casual or contract-of-service status to evade government-mandated benefits and privileges due to regular or permanent employees. These include sick leave, vacation leave, maternity leave, SSS contribution, 13th month pay and year-end bonuses.
These workers are engaged for just a period of three to five months to avoid their becoming regular or permanent employees. Their services are then terminated at the end of the contract period. They may, however, be rehired after a lapse of one to four months at the discretion of their employers.
Hence, female workers who have moved from one firm to another after the end of every casual employment may own a wardrobe of different work uniforms bought from previous employments.
In many cases, the salaries of contract workers are often much lower than the regulars but both are below the minimum wage. Their employers keeps two payrolls for them to sign – one to comply with the requirements of law and the other as actual records of received compensations.
Suffice it to say that in upholding social justice, it is the duty and responsibility of the government to protect and secure the rights of workers and to stop any unjust practices that undermine their welfare. Instead of putting to an end, however, the government has in fact adopted some of the exploitative schemes of unscrupulous business firms. This is evident today in the tolerance and proliferation of job order employment in the government service.
The Procurement Act of 2003, RA 9184, allows government agencies or government-owned or controlled corporations to enter into contract-of-service or job-order engagement with private firms or individuals for lump sum works such as janitorial, security or consultancy services where no employer-employee relationship exists between the government units and said contracting firms.
It is understood that these lump sum works are not the main functions of the government entities but are support activities necessary for their effective and efficient operations. The Commission on Audit (COA) has clarified that job order covers piece of works or intermittent jobs of short durations not exceeding six months, on a daily basis.
While individuals hired under this scheme work for the government, they are not employees of the government. They are considered simply as service providers, better known as job orders or JOs for short.
Many government agencies, however, have deviated from the purpose and the spirit of the Procurement Law. They use the lump sum appropriation of their annual budget in hiring individuals through contract-of-service or job-order arrangement to carry out their primary institutional functions through the loose interpretation of Section 5 f of RA 9184, particularly 5 f (v) and vi), to wit:
“Consulting Services – refer to services for Infrastructure Projects and other types of projects or activities of the Government requiring adequate external technical and professional experts that are beyond the capability and/or capacity of the government to undertake such as, but not limited to: (I) advisory and review services; (ii) pre investment or feasibility studies; (iii) design; (iv) construction supervision; (v) management and related services; and (vi) other technical services or special studies” (Emphasis provided).
In state colleges and universities, for instance, JOs are engaged to teach, perform research functions and conduct extension work along with the regular members of the faculty, research workers and extension service personnel.
The contract of JOs who are hired to teach are renewed every semester, while the rest – research assistants, janitors or utility workers, security guards and other administrative personnel – every six months.
Many JOs have remained in contract-of-service status for as many as five years or more. Hired under the Procurement Law, they are not covered by Civil Service Commission (CSC) rules and regulations and not subject to the qualifications standard of the government.
Without check and balance, the situation naturally engenders abuses in discretion of those in authority. Heads of agencies hire their own relatives and close friends regardless of their qualifications, and replace JOs with the required qualifications with their own wards if the former do not toe the line.
In hiring services under the Procurement Act, public bidding is mandatory. Except, however, for consultancy services and infrastructure construction projects and lump sum works like security, janitorial services and special or externally funded research projects, the hiring of individual JOs are being resorted to without any public bidding. Again, all is done at the discretion of the head of government agency or unit. In fact, the heads of some state universities and colleges do not even bother to submit the contracts of services of JOs to their governing boards for approval or even just for notation.
And because an employer-and-employee relationship does not exist under the Procurement Law, JOs are not entitled to security of tenure and such privileges and perks enjoyed by regular or permanent employees, such as membership with the GSIS, sick leave, vacation leave, maternity or fraternity leave, attendance in trainings and seminars, 13th month pay, year-end bonuses and cash gift. They are, moreover, not also entitled to official travel, per diems and allowances. They have to spend their own money if their tasks require them to travel now and then outside their official station.
In a number of cases, the COA has disallowed and directed heads of government agencies to return to the government payments made for the travel expenses and per diems of their JOs in field works and the cash gifts or year-end bonuses appropriated them. Shrugging off the risk, still some heads of agencies continue to grant travel allowances and year-end benefits to their favored JOs in manner that evades or circumvents the law.
Needless to say, the practice of hiring individual job orders makes the head of agency an autocrat in his domain, renders the government merit system inutile, compromises performance quality, and promotes discrimination, injustice and anomaly in the service.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is a retired professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He trained, as a British Council Fellow, on environmental management at Sheffield University, United Kingdom. He was former consultant of the Local Government Support Programme (LGSP) on institutional development in northwestern Mindanao. He once served as national consultant to the Asian Development Bank-Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ADB-DENR) project on integrated coastal resources management.]