COVID-19 vaccines

Businesses can’t compel staff to get vaccinated – Guevarra

Pauline Macaraeg
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says he disagrees with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III's earlier statement that the IATF resolution allows businesses to hold unvaccinated workers' pay

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases resolution lowering the restrictions in certain areas to Alert Level 3 is not meant to provide a legal basis to compel vaccination, contrary to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III’s earlier statements.

The IATF resolution, released on October 13, states that all employees of the establishments allowed to open in areas under Alert Level 3 must be fully vaccinated.

On Thursday, October 21, Bello said that the IATF resolution provided a legal basis for businesses to compel their workers to get vaccinated.

“You have that legal basis now, the IATF resolution. There is basis now to hold the pay because of violation of the IATF ruling,” the Inquirer quoted Bello as saying in a television interview.

This was opposed by Guevarra in a message to reporters on Saturday, October 23.

“I really regret that I have to disagree with my dear colleague, Secretary Bello, on this matter. The subject IATF resolution placing the NCR under Alert Level 3 and authorizing certain establishments to open their doors to customers or clients simply provides that they may do so as long as their staff or employees are all vaccinated,” Guevarra said.

“But they may not compel their employees or staff to get themselves vaccinated, because there is a law, the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, that expressly states that vaccination cards shall not be a mandatory requirement for employment (both for recruitment and maintenance of employment), among others,” he added.

Section 12 of Republic Act No. 11525 says vaccination cards shall not be considered an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.

Bello later backtracked on his earlier statement and clarified on Friday, October 22, that businesses can’t fire or withhold the salaries of unvaccinated employees.

Still, Guevarra said on Saturday that he’d discuss it further with Bello and other IATF officials.

“We will surely put this on the table,” he said. “The only permissible approach is moral suasion, coupled with greater access to the vaccine.”

Guevarra said he was unable to bring up the topic during the IATF meeting on Thursday, because it was canceled and rescheduled.

“We could have clarified this issue during that meeting. Pasensya na kayo (Apologies) for any resulting confusion. But unless the 2021 vaccination act is amended, or its IRR (implementing rules and regulations) clarified, that is the existing law on the matter that no executive issuance can modify,” he said.

As of Tuesday, October 19, a total of 53,315,069 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Philippines. A total of 24,694,717 persons have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 22.41% of the country’s total population. – Rappler.com