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President Duterte and Endo
The Duterte administration has taken a hardline stance on the practice of “endo.” Endo is shorthand for “end of contract,” which refers to the termination of contractual employment. Although businesses sometimes hire contractual workers for seasonal needs, President Duterte and new Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Belo III oppose the practice of hiring employees on short-term contract to perform permanent functions. Employers, for example, hire workers for three to to five months only to let them go, replace them, and (occasionally) rehire the same separated employee after a short hiatus called a “rest period” or “pahinga.”
Corporations in service and manufacturing industries use short-term contracts to circumvent the mandatory “regularization” of employees after six-months of continuous service. By avoiding the “regularization,” employers avoid the cost of additional discretionary benefits. Regular or permanent employees also receive legal protections. They cannot be terminated without a lengthy process that resembles a legal proceeding. Regulars cannot be laid-off for reasons under than retrenchment or redundancy, and companies that reduce their regular workforce are not permitted to hire replacements for set time periods. Regular employees are entitled to additional benefits (in the form of financial compensation) upon separation or retirement.
Contractual workers, on the other hand, can be separated at will at no cost other than training replacements. In organized workplaces, contractual workers are not entitled to join unions. By hiring new workers through short-term contracts, employers are able to limit union influence in the workplace.
For workers subject to one short-term contract after another, the practice of endo results in financial precarity. The end of a one contract is usually followed by a search for a new job that is likely to be contractual rather than permanent. The lack of job security is often accompanied by the absence of opportunities for advancement. Unable to accumulate relevant experience, workers remain stalled in entry-level positions at entry-level pay. Short-term jobs also tend to favor younger workers over older ones, which means positions for older, unskilled workers are in short supply.
Duterte’s rhetoric against “endo” has taken a violent turn. Addressing the country’s businessmen, he said:
I’m just issuing a warning. You choose: stop contractualization or I kill you. You know why? I can utter things like that. I am the President. I have immunity. I can summon you. I will shoot you.
President Duterte has effectively promised to kill the shareholders of many of the country’s most powerful corporations (and many immediately thought of retail, leasing, and investment giant SM). In a less deadly move, Duterte has since called on citizens to report unjust labor practices and threatened to shut down companies practicing endo. For Duterte, the perpetuators of the practice of endo are “big business.” He describes endo as part of a spectrum of injustices perpetuated by big businesses that practice wage theft, non-payment of benefits, and insecurity of tenure.
While responses from labor advocacy groups has been positive, Duterte has since been confronted with the government’s own practice of endo. This is especially egregious because regular government workers with job security receive poor pay, but better benefits than many workers in private enterprise. Indeed, may government workers–especially young workers and workers at the local government level–are paid less than minimum wage and receive no government-mandated benefits. What had become acceptable hiring practice has now become a series of embarrassing scandals for the new government promising an end to endo.
Endo the Movie and the End of Stability
Jade Castro’s film Endo (2007) is an intimate portrait of the experience of endo. Endo follows Leo (Jayson Abalos) who works one short-term contract after another. He works at a cafe, a clothing shop in a mall, a grocery store, and, finally, another cafe. The movement from one service job to another is an effect of a disrupted education. Leo does not complete a college degree and is doomed to work contractual jobs. Part of his salary goes to his younger brother’s tuition, since Leo hopes that his brother will receive a degree in order to avoid being subjected to the cycle of endo.
Leo’s girlfriends experience endo too. He breaks up with Candy (CJ Javarata) after her contract at the cafe where they both work ends. His new girlfriend Tanya (Ina Feleo) moves from her job as a shoe store clerk to a job as a hotel housekeeper. For Leo, Candy, and Tanya, endo is a routine. They celebrate each endo with their temporary colleagues over drinks at the end of the final shift.
Castro also presents a root cause for Leo’s disrupted education: a disrupted family life. His mother (who does not appear in the film) left her husband and her children, and her absence haunts the film and Leo’s family. The initial act of abandonment leads to incredible psychic and financial damage. The distressed father is unable to work; Leo is unable to finish school; and the younger son exhibits rebellious behavior. The film depicts the damaging cycle perpetuated by the practice of endo. But instead of explicitly politicizing endo, Endo imagines that the root of the problem is founded in the disruption of family life.
For Endo, unstable employment and his own unstable family life found Leo’s inability to imagine a stable romantic future. Because Leo defers romantic commitment using his brother’s tuition fees as an excuse, Tanya chooses to end an accidental pregnancy. She pursues a new job as a member of a shipping lines crew, rather than gamble on a future with Leo. Tanya, on the one hand, is the only person with whom Leo can allow himself to fantasize a stable future elsewhere (Canada, Australia, Europe). On the other hand, she is also the person who chooses to end a relationship and a pregnancy, disrupting the possibility of the creating a new stable family life with Leo.
The film romanticizes the possibility of continuities in an environment where stability no longer seems possible. It imagines every disruption to a conventional life–a mother’s abandonment, an abortion, a break-up, the end of an employment contract–as the loss of a potential future trajectory. The film asks its audience to consider Leo’s rootlessness with compassion and a little nostalgia. What would life be like if endo were not common practice? What would life be like if mothers didn’t leave their families, and pregnant girlfriends sought marriage instead of running away to sea? But for Endo, the conditions of modern life no longer permit stable lives and stable futures, and Leo ends the film facing his future rootlessness with as much optimism as he can.
The film surprises, because it takes a hard look at the motivations behind young people’s workplace mobility. Although news sources dwell on upwardly mobile millennials and fret about their workplace dissatisfactions, many other (and many more) young people leave their jobs for circumstances beyond their control. Even Tanya’s decision to pursue a career at sea is a decision she makes under duress. She has no better options on land.