By Ellson Quismorio
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III pleaded to lawmakers Wednesday to grant his request for a significant increase in the number inspectors amid the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) phenomena.
Bello, speaking to members of the House Appropriations Committee during DOLE’s budget briefing, said the mushrooming of POGOs in the country – which usually employs foreigners –represent extra work for the undermanned agency.
“We are supposed to inspect 900,000 or more business establishments nationwide, and we only have 710 labor law compliance officers or inspectors. We requested for a plantilla position for 5,000 [inspectors]. They only gave us an additional 100,” Bello said.
“We have to admit our limitation in terms of inspection. As much as we want to inspect all establishments all over the country to see to it that they comply with all labor laws and standards, physically it has become very impossible,” the former congressman vented.
As such, he pleaded to the panel members for them to give DOLE the means to hire more law compliance officers.
“Especially so that we now have additional responsibility of checking on the operation of these POGOs,” Bello continued.
“We are talking of thousands of operators in our country and we are required to see to it that these foreign workers, before they can operate or work in the country, must obtain an alien employment permit (AEP).”
Bello said it’s part of the agency’s mandate to ensure that no Filipino would be deprived of work in favor of a foreigner, especially if the Filipino is capable of performing the job.
“Kung kaya ng Pilipino yung trabaho (If the Filipino can do the job), we will not give an AEP,” he stressed.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) has reportedly granted 87 POGO franchises to different firms, mostly from China. However, there are reports that over 300 POGO firms are now operating in the country.
The proposed budget of DOLE under the P4.1-trillion National Expenditure Program (NEP) is P14.42 billion. This is a 12 percent reduction from their current 2019 budget.
It’s also the task of the agency’s 710 inspectors to check local establishments’ compliance with President Duterte’s order to end the practice of contractualization among Filipino employers.
Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Fernando Gaite, citing information from the International Labor Organization (ILO), told the panel that there are an estimated seven to 10 million contractual or non-regular workers in the Philippines. He asked DOLE for comment about this.
“That number needs verification,” Assistant Secretary Benjo Benavides replied.
“But based on our administrative data, we can only speak of the number of contractual workers of establishments that we inspected. And this refers to a number of more than 200,000. These 200,000 workers are from those establishments we inspected which are now pending before the offices of the DOLE from the region up to the Office of the Secretary,” he said.
Although Bello admitted that the discrepancy between the number of regular and non-regular workers in the country remains huge, he said that he is now seeing “encouraging” signs among local employers.
“What is very encouraging is that the employers have been submitting to DOLE their regularization programs. Hindi madaling kunin yan your honors (That’s not easy to get your honors). Employers are voluntarily submitting their regularization programs,” he said.
Bello cited examples in retail giant SM, which according to him has an annual regularization plan involving 10,000 workers; and fast-food behemoth Jollibee, which aims to regularize 3,000 workers a year.
Bello also trumpeted the number of regularized contractual workers under the Duterte administration.
“From 2016 to 2019, we were able to regularize 504,000 contractual workers. What is more amazing in this is, out of this [number], 65 percent were regularized through voluntary compliance and only 35 percent were the result of compliance order. [This] indicates that even our managers and employers are cooperating with the President in terms of regularizing employees,” he said.