Worker groups in the country opposed the proposal to waive the 13th month pay of employees through exemption and the possible extension of floating status of temporary displaced employees.
The Associated Labor Unions (ALU) said that the 13th month pay benefit at this time of the year “have already been earned and accrued by employees therefore, it cannot be waived or taken away by giving exemption to employers or deferment of payment.”
This came after the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) stated that a company or a business establishment can be exempted from paying its workers the required 13th month pay “if they are characterized as distressed.”
Gerard Seno, ALU national executive vice president, however, said that “13th month payment benefit, just like minimum wage, is a basic labor standard that cannot be waived or deferred.”
“Also, workers have sacrificed so much since the pandemic began up to the present. Many employees’ working hours have been significantly reduced and subjected to job rotation. Some were made to adjust to the rigorous work from home scheme and their wages substantially cut and benefits reduced,” Seno said.
He argued that employers and business-owners particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have received small business wage subsidy cash assistance from the government to cope during the pandemic.
The organization also called on employers and business owners to respect and abide by their obligation to pay the 13th month pay of their employees in time and urged DOLE to ensure that employers and businesses comply with the provisions of the Thirteenth Month Pay Law or Presidential Decree 851.
“We are calling on the employers and business-owners to take a hard look not only on their business but also at the plight of their employees who are also hard pressed. We urge them not to forgo payment of the 13th month pay of their employees,” Seno said.
“We also direct our appeal to the DOLE and to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to not tinker with the 13th month pay law. Giving exemptions and deferring payment of such would make working people suffer further,” said Seno.
Kilusang Mayo Uno Chairperson Elmer Labog also stressed that “it is the government’s responsibility to bail out MSMEs in times of emergencies.”
“Deferments and exemptions are not a good tune to sing amid this pandemic,” he said. “Why make the workers suffer by letting them be submerged in debts here and there?”
Meanwhile, the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition rejected DOLE’s proposal to extend the six-month floating status of temporary displaced employees.
The group argued that under the law, suspension of employment cannot exceed six months, stressing that the extension proposed by DOLE “does not have any support in law.”
“Article 301 of the Labor Code only allows for a bona fide suspension of operation of a business or undertaking for a period not exceeding six months. The DOLE has no authority to issue a Department Order or Advisory in violation of the Labor Code, which it is mandated to implement,” the labor group said.
“Only Congress can amend the law, if it agrees with the DOLE’s intent to prolong the floating status of employment. As it now stands, an executive fiat cannot validly be done via the issuance of a Department Order,” it added.
Bello said Thursday that he is considering to extend the period of rehiring temporarily displaced employees to three months instead of the six-month extension sought by the business sector.
He said he will come up with an advisory ordering an extension by October 9 or by next week.