BY the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade primary, Dad said I would find a lot of things interesting in his Quiapo printing shop, which was a sneaky way of getting me to work summers in the family enterprise. Well, besides the 19th century minerva presses, the printer’s ink smell that permeated the whole site, and the endless folding, glueing and old-style embossing in the binding department, I also liked to watch my aunt type payroll forms in her giant Underwood typewriter. My aunt, when she wasn’t bringing me with her shopping in Carriedo and Villalobos, was also the company accountant.
On Thursdays, I would look at her tally the time sheets and overtime logs and summarize it into one spreadsheet-like payroll record. The supervisors were earning six pesos and hour, the rank-and-file around P4. A special column was reserved for overtime pay, where the premium was 50 centavos over your regular rate. Everyone, even Dad, was in this payroll summary, which seemed to me quite cool for my aunt, as she got to know what everyone was paid.
[ By the way, I didn’t know why she seemed to think I was invisible, as she didn’t allow anyone else to see what she was typing. I guess kids really got away with a lot, until they started sprouting facial hair. 🙂 ]
No matter what your position was in the company, as long as you were on the regular roster, you got the same eight hours. Everyone, from the Mainland Chinese pressmen who’d been in the shop since the Communists overran China in 1949, to the youngest kargadors and apprentices from my mom’s hometown in Masbate, were considered “regulars” because they were “regularly” rostered and received 48 hours a week, and an additional 50 centavos an overtime hour over their regular rate, but that was enough to sweeten the deal. The overtime was there often, and everyone took it. Everyone was happy to take the overtime, but the 48 hours were basic; everyone expected it. And got it.
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I was around 10 years old or thereabouts, but it didn’t take an adult to understand the fundamental agreement between hirer and hiree. In return for skills and commitment to executing the will of the hirer, hiree is given cash for his efforts. Because the basic hours of work ends on the eighth hour, anything over that is an imposition on the worker’s leisure and / or personal time. So there’s a “premium” or extra value assigned to eight-hours-plus. There may be fringe benefits or additional details to the agreement, but as far as everyone’s concerned, the work, and the eight-hours comprise 95% of the deal.
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Nearly four decades have passed, and I’ve worked in two countries, and maybe in a dozen workplaces. The deal hasnt’ changed. Which is why, when some wise guys try to tinker with that basic agreement, and introduce bull-bleep like “giving workers 40 hours isn’t necessarily part of the contract of work” or “employees are actually independent contractors and there’s no employer-employee relationship in reality,” I just roll my eyes.
Amazingly, the potential for abuse in a regular work contract where hours aren’t guaranteed (or “zero-hours” contracts as they are also known), be it in New Zealand where I am now, or in the Philippines, is so obvious it should be plain to everybody, and yet until last week the clamor for change wasn’t taken seriously.
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I’ll give you just one example. Daughter Ganda had been working in a popular hamburger chain here in Wellington for a few months (and had therefore assumed, correctly, that she enjoyed regular employee status) before she had an argument with her supervisor/manager. Seems that she couldn’t make it to an emergency shift that her boss asked to her work in place of a sick co-worker. Cool, the boss said, don’t worry about it (the sarcasm a little more than palpable), but don’t ask me for any extra shifts in the future.
He was good on his word, and then some. Not only did he stop giving Ganda any extra shifts like he used to, he also gradually cut down her hours until Ganda worked no more than the typical casual or part-time worker. All because she didn’t do the manager a favor when he needed it. This, based on the reasoning that the manager stops being a good guy the moment you (Ganda) stop “being a team player.” Sheeeeesh.
The tragedy not just to Ganda but to thousands of other workers like her (especially in the food service industry) was/is that the discriminatory action of managers like Ganda’s is perfectly reasonable and legal in light of the zero-hours contract that so many workers agree to, if they want to earn their bread.
At the risk of sounding repetitive : What’s the incentive to aspiring to become a regular employee when there’s no assurance you’ll get regular hours? In Taglish: Bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual pa rin ang oras mo? Bakeeeet?
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Last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, has finally begun to realize what an unjust contract the zero-hours contract is, and has removed it from all their labor contracts. The union that was once a lonely voice in the wilderness is now rightfully earning kudos (I think it’s First Union, which I happen to belong to 🙂 ) and hope that not only the rest of the food industry, but the whole of New Zealand employer-dom will follow suit. It’s not a dream anymore.
The day will come when the zero-hours contract will be a thing of the past, and workers like Ganda can’t wait. Hopefully, that day will come soon. In the meantime, don’t lose hope Ganda!
Thanks for reading!