Workers march in Philippines to call for end to short-term contracts

MANILA: Thousands of workers and activists in the Philippines marched on Tuesday in a May Day rally to demonstrate against what they said was President Rodrigo Duterte's failure to keep a campaign promise to get rid of short-term employment contracts.

A pledge to act against employers who hire workers short-term and without adequate benefits, helped Duterte, a former city mayor, win the presidency by a wide margin in May 2016.

Shortly after assuming power Duterte warned that any company that failed to stop hiring short-term labour risked closure, and his government launched a crackdown against it.

But trade unions say the practice has persisted, particularly in shopping malls and the fast-food industry, where firms keep issuing staff with contracts short enough to avoid having to provide them proper benefits.

A leader of the left-wing Bayan (Nation) movement, Renato Reyes, said the president had done what other leaders had failed to do in 30 years: unite fragmented labour groups.

"The historic unity of the working class is the direct result of the failure of the regime to bring an end to contractualisation, a major campaign promise of the president," Reyes said in a statement.

"For two years, the executive dribbled the ball, only to pass it to Congress at the last minute."

About 8,000 police and soldiers were deployed to keep watch the march. Police estimated up to 10,000 workers and activists, waving flags and carrying banners, took part.

There were no reports of violence.

Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president was holding meetings with labour groups to address the issue and he may still sign an order to end short-term labour contracts.

There were also protests in other cities, including in Cebu City, where the president delivered speech.

Elmer Labog, head of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement), a left-wing workers group, said his group would skip the meeting with the president and would instead hold rallies to protest against short-term contracts, press for higher wages and improve protection for overseas workers.

"Filipino workers mark this year’s International Labor Day with a historic nationwide protest that highlights our unity and outrage against Duterte's failed promises," he said in a statement.

Last month, the labour department ordered fast-food chain Jollibee Foods Corp to regularise more than 6,000 workers by making them permanent