Labor NGO reminds employers, government: uphold workers’ rights and welfare in times of calamity

Travelers were stranded at the Toledo City on December 23 after the Philippine Coast Guard announced the suspension of sea trips due to Typhoon Ursula. Photo by Toledo City PIO.

Labor NGO Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) reminds employers that calamity does not suspend labor laws, meaning, workers must be protected against unfair dismissal for taking force majeure leave or proposing to take it. This also means that workers’ wages in both private and public sector still stand and workers should not be fired for their absence.

EILER also urged the Duterte administration to act immediately on the 23,789 stranded passengers on Christmas eve reported by the Philippine Coast Guard, as typhoon Ursula hits the country. Most of the passengers are also workers who saved their leaves for Christmas and are trying to get to their families to celebrate the holidays.

The labor NGO underscored the government should not only remind people to brace for any calamity but should also ensure that coordinating agencies are well-prepared to immediately and efficiently distribute relief and assistance. The government should also encourage employers to uphold workers’ rights and welfare in times of calamity.

“Workers often take their few days of leaves close to Christmas because for those in the private sector as an example, the Labor Code mandates a yearly service incentive leave of only five days with pay after rendering at least one year of service. Contractual workers are often not entitled to take leaves; hence, they do not earn anything on days they opt to spend time with family. Being stranded means they might take more days off to spend time with the family and that puts them at risk of having no work to return to. Workers are then constantly under extreme pressure to report to work immediately, sacrificing time spent with family,” Executive Director Rochelle Porras said.

Porras added that government must make travel insurance affordable for the people, most especially minimum-wage earners as they are one of the most vulnerable and hit disproportionately hard when calamity strikes and during travel cancellation. Tickets should be fully refunded or should be rebookable without hefty charges. Above all, effective integration of climate resilient universal social protection measures and disaster risk reduction efforts should be adopted and made accessible.

EILER cite the study by Global Peace Index 2019 declaring the Philippines as the most susceptible country to hazards brought about by climate change, with 47 percent of the country’s population is in areas highly exposed to climate hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tropical cyclones and drought.

Porras emphasizes the need to have climate legislations that complements workers’ rights to actively engage workers and unions in the implementation of climate change and disaster risk management policy. She added that proposed bills like that of Senator De Lima’s SB 1123 that seeks to give five-day special emergency leave with pay for government and private sector workers directly affected by natural calamities or disasters is a welcome step.

“Workers’ duty as part of the workforce should not go against their right to be climate resilient and to spend quality time with their families during this Christmas season,” Porras concluded.

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