Thousands of Philippine workers carry placards while marching towards the Malacanang Presidential Palace during a May Day rally at Espana, metro Manila , Philippines May 1, 2018. Image Credit: REUTERS

MANILA: Philippine labour groups expressed disappointment on Wednesday over a long-awaited executive order by President Rodrigo Duterte to crack down on short-term hiring, saying it offered nothing new and left millions of workers without benefits.

Halting use of short contracts commonly referred to as “endo”, or “end of contract”, because they offer few or no benefits, was one of the populist campaign promises that put Duterte in office, but workers’ groups say he has dragged his heels on the issue.

Thousands marched on Labour Day on Tuesday to demand that Duterte issue an executive order, but the one he announced fell short of expectations. It promised to enforce an existing ban on illegal contracting and subtracting, and tasked lawmakers to come up with a new labour code.

“There is nothing new in favour of the workers,” said Elmer Labog, head of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement), a leftwing workers group.

“With this signal from the president, we are left without hope that the new legislation on labour will be favourable for us.” Employers who practice “endo” offer tenures shorter than six months, the threshold at which a worker must be made permanent, and entitled to benefits.

Carlos Isagani Zarate, a representative of the Bayan Muna or “Country First” congressional party, said it was likely that big labour federations would outright reject Duterte’s order.

“This is not the executive order they expected,” he told news channel ANC. “They expected that the president would issue a pronouncement that once and for all, job contractualisation must be outlawed.” A grouping of Philippine trade unions said Duterte’s order did not stop what it called “precarious” deals and “abusive contractualisation”, but welcomed his directive to legislators to fast-track a bill guaranteeing security of tenure.

“We hope the Senate will be very sympathetic to the plight of abused or exploited workers and not be influenced by unscrupulous employers or businessmen,” said Alan Tanjusay, the spokesman of the group, the Associated Labour Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque accepted that the order was a reiteration of an existing law, but said it underlined Duterte’s determination to improve job security and deliver on his promises.

“What is new is the political will of the president to end contractualisation,” he told dZMM radio.