Landmark Labor Laws in the Philippines
BY FREDERICK N. CASTILLO
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly exposed the labor sector as among the most vulnerable sectors in the country.
Factories shutting down, scaled-down operations, massive retrenchment, and job losses, and even displaced workers begging on the streets are heartbreaking experiences that the labor sector had to endure and is still enduring more than 2 years into the global health crisis. However, as restrictions are lifted and the majority of the country is now on Alert Level 1, a semblance of “normalcy” is gradually happening, although workers are particularly the first to admit that they are far from going back to their pre-pandemic, normal situation.
Despite the seemingly dire situation, workers have historically pursued reforms to uplift their lives and livelihood, mostly bringing their causes and ideologies to the streets, through mass actions directed toward the government. Inevitably, the long years of this “labor of love for labor” have likewise resulted in the passage of landmark laws to ensure their productivity and dignified way of life.
LABOR MOVEMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES
The country’s labor sector has consistently been at the forefront of the movement and struggle to provide quality jobs to Filipinos, and more importantly, to uphold and protect the rights of workers. The formal labor movement in the country can be traced to the American colonial period, when Isabelo de los Reyes unified various labor groups with the establishment of Union Obrera Democratica Filipina on February 2, 1902.
The organization is considered the first modern trade union in the country, and was founded on the following goals: improve working conditions through protective labor legislation, locate work for the unemployed and assist their families, provide free education for workers’ children, assist sick members and those in distress, and emancipate workers through saving and related projects. Eventually, the union evolved to become part of a much larger movement that worked for the country’s independence.
Between the founding of Union Obrera Democratica Filipina in the early 1900s and the present time, thousands of labor unions, federations, and organizations have been established with the objective of assuming the responsibility of championing the cause of labor and laborers nationwide. Among these groups are the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, and Kilusang Mayo Uno. In general, these groups and the millions of workers toiling daily have directly and indirectly contributed to the effort to improve their economic and social standing. Their selfless undertakings and
sacrifice have inevitably led to or influenced the passage of important laws that form the foundation of the country’s labor sector.
LANDMARK LABOR-RELATED LAWS
Labor Code of the Philippines. The Labor Code was enacted on May 1, 1974 by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos through Presidential Decree (PD) 442. It is the law that governs labor practices and relations in the country. The Labor Code prescribes the general rules governing labor matters and employee-employer relationship through its various provisions, including those on hiring and termination of private employees, work conditions (e.g., maximum work hours, overtime), employee benefits (e.g., 13th month pay, retirement
benefits), guidelines in organizing and membership in labor unions, the pursuit of collective bargaining, and staging of strikes.
Significant amendments to the Labor Code include the passage of Republic Act (RA) No. 6715 (i.e., “Herrera Law”) authored by former Senator Ernesto Herrera, as well as amendments introduced by former Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani to strengthen the “prohibition on discrimination against women with respect to terms and conditions of employment.”
Wage Rationalization Act. A just minimum wage has constantly been at the forefront of workers’ struggle for reforms in the labor sector. Although earlier pieces of legislation were enacted related to the provision of a minimum wage, the passage of RA 6727 (Wage Rationalization Act) on June 9, 1989 provides a general mechanism to rationalize the fixing of minimum wages throughout the country, ensuring a decent standard of living for workers and their families.
RA 6727 stipulates that “the minimum wage rates for agricultural and nonagricultural employees and workers in each and every region of the country shall be those prescribed by the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards.” The law also created the National Wages and Productivity Commission, which is the policy-making body on wages, income, and related aspects of labor.
PD 851, Memorandum Order 28, RA 6686. The issue of who employees have to thank for the 13th month pay they receive is relatively contentious, given the modifications made in the law. On December 16, 1975, President Marcos issued PD 851 “requiring all employers to pay their employees a 13th month pay,” although a number of employers at that time were already giving 13th month pay to their employees. Moreover, there were exclusions to this benefit, including those receiving a basic salary of over Php1,000 (at that time), government employees, household helpers, and those earning on a commission or boundary basis.
On August 13, 1986, former President Corazon C. Aquino issued Memorandum Order 28, expanding the scope of PD 851, specifically by removing the Php1,000 ceiling for the 13th month pay for all rank-and-file employees. However, the directive still did not grant a 13th month pay to government employees. On December 14, 1988, RA 6686 was passed, which, in effect, granted government officials and employees the equivalent of a 13th month pay and an additional cash gift of Php1,000.
OSH Law. RA 11058 or the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Law was signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on August 17, 2018, further strengthening the effort to protect workers from various safety and health hazards in the work environment. The OSH Law requires employers to strictly comply with various occupational safety and health standards. These standards include updated training requirements, on-site clinic/health facilities, audit and tracking of compliance, providing workers with information on all types of workplace hazards, giving workers the right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment, and providing safe facilities and personal protective equipment.
Telecommuting Act. RA 11165 or the Telecommuting Act was signed into law by President Duterte on December 20, 2018, and could be critical as many workers and employees are now returning to their physical workplaces even though we are still in a pandemic. The Telecommuting Act defines telecommuting as “a work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.” Accordingly, the law formalizes the option for employees to work from home or any other location outside their formal workplace, as well as provides the rights and duties of employers and employees availing of such a work arrangement.
Magna Carta of Women. RA 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women is an inclusive women’s human rights legislation that aims to eliminate discrimination against women. In general, this law recognizes, protects, fulfills, and promotes the rights of Filipino women, particularly those in the marginalized sector. Among the salient provisions of the Magna Carta specific to the labor sector are non-discrimination in employment, including opportunities and promotions, in the military, police, and other similar services; opportunities to participate in third-level civil service, development council, and planning bodies; and assistance to migrant workers, particularly those in distress.
Expanded Maternity Leave Law, Paternity Leave Act. RA 11210 or the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law was signed into law on February 22, 2019. This legislation grants employed mothers who just gave birth over 3 months of paid leave. In particular, their maternity leave has been increased from 60 days (normal delivery) or 78 days (caesarian delivery) to 105 days (regardless of the method of delivery). The law also grants a 60-day paid leave in case of miscarriage or emergency termination of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, RA 8187 or the Paternity Leave Act of 1996 stipulates that married male employees in the public and private sectors are entitled to a paternity leave of 7 days for the first four deliveries (defined by law as childbirth or miscarriage) of the legitimate spouse.
Magna Carta for Disabled Persons. RA 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons was enacted primarily in recognition that persons with disabilities (PWDs) have the same rights as other people, and promotes PWDs’ participation in and integration into society. Chapter 5 of the Magna Carta focuses on the rights and privileges of PWDs in terms of employment. Specifically, the law emphasizes that “No disabled person shall be denied access to opportunities for suitable employment.” Moreover, a qualified PWD employee is subject to the same terms and conditions of employment (i.e., compensation, benefits, privileges, incentives, among others) as any qualified abled-bodied individual. Provisions on sheltered employment, apprenticeship, and incentives for employers are also provided in the law.
‘LABOR OF LOVE’
Indeed, the country’s workforce, laborers, workers, or whatever term is used symbolize the struggle of the people not only to survive but to thrive with dignity in an extremely challenging environment. The “labor of love” of Filipino workers throughout history reminds us of what the country can achieve because of their hard work and sacrifice.