Worker abuse rampant under Luzon lockdown – labor group

ALBAY, Philippines – A labor group released a report on unjust employer practices during the Luzon-wide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Labor federation Solidarity of Unions in the Philippines for Empowerment and Reforms (SUPER) said the report is based on its two-part online labor survey conducted between March 19 and 22 with verified complaining workers from Luzon. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Justice as the missing component in fighting coronavirus)

The labor group SUPER gathered reports of unjust employer practices during this crisis from 318 employees in 160 companies.

These include companies that are allegedly using the crisis to justify illegal termination of its workers (11 companies), workers made to work under the "no work, no pay" scheme but without transport being provided (81 companies), flexible work arrangements but with reduced pay (28 companies), suspension of work without pay (98 companies) coupled with refusal to apply for the financial assistance programs being offered by the Department of Labor (56 companies).

The report had been relayed in official correspondence to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and their respective local government units where the companies are located.

According to SUPER national president Luke Espiritu, the survey proves that relying on employer volunteerism is farcical because rather than cooperating with their workers at this time of crisis, the reported employers take advantage of the situation to deepen the precarious nature of work, adding that the national government has yet to offer aid for businesses.

On layoffs

The Philippine Airlines Employees' Association (PALEA) said that every company can devise unique schemes on how to help the workers and company and avoid layoffs.

For instance, PALEA said that the executive salary of Singapore Airlines was reduced by 15%. Cathay Pacific provided for leave without pay for a certain period of time. PALEA said the COVID-19 crisis should not be used as a reason to terminate employees.

Recently, Cebu Pacific laid off over 150 employees, while Philippine Airlines laid off 300. A former IT staff from PAL who was laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis lamented the management's treatment of them.

He said the management could have given them options to voluntarily resign, or at least 4-6 months notice to prepare.

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific managers took pay cuts (10% off) to avoid more layoffs.

Government aid

Espiritu said that while the amount of assistance from DOLE is very little, only P5,000, it could have still helped workers.

But "there are a lot of companies that simply refuse to apply even if the procedure for the program is simple," he said.

The COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) can only be accessed by employees if their employers file the necessary forms with the regional labor office and the application is approved.

While companies appealed for alternative files to submit like certification, DOLE secretary Silvestre Bello urged companies to submit reports so that DOLE could extend to them their most needed assistance under the CAMP.

"As of March 31, our field monitoring already recorded more than 630,000 workers displaced either by reason of temporary closure or flexible work arrangements as reported by 15,213 establishments. Of these figures, 169,232 belong to the informal sector," Bello said.

He said the cash aid available is different from the allocation of between P5,000 to P8,000 in subsidy that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other agencies are providing under the Bayanihan to Heal As One law, and is a one-time quarantine assistance.

Unemployment benefits

The unemployment benefit from the Social Security System (SSS) provides cash allowance for qualified SSS members who are involuntarily separated from work.

Also called an involuntary separation insurance program, this benefit is equivalent to two times average monthly salary credit. and is available to qualified SSS members.

The former PAL employee said he would apply for this benefit.

Enterprise Rehabilitation Financing for MSMEs

The Small Business Corporation is setting up a P1-billion Enterprise Rehabilitation Financing facility under the Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso (COVID19 P3-ERF) to support affected MSMEs.

The P3-ERF facility will open once the ECQ is lifted, where affected MSMEs with asset size of not more than P10 million and have been operating for at least one year, can borrow from P10,000-P200,000.

Second survey

In addition, the list of companies associated with the unjust labor practices listed above will be updated regularly to increase public pressure and compel companies to do their part to keep their workers at home and help "flatten the curve."

A second survey is being conducted starting March 28 until April 5. It is about employers not issuing personal protective equipment (PPEs) to their employees or not practicing physical distancing, and refusing to allow unionized workers to avail of paid emergency leaves provided in their collective bargaining agreements. – Rappler.com