After previously stating that certain establishments are allowed to not only withhold pay from but also terminate, workers on the grounds of an unvaccinated status, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III has issued a new advisory stating that these are illegal practices.
Bello’s earlier pronouncement was that businesses that are required by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to have a fully vaccinated workforce in order to operate, such as restaurants and personal services, have the prerogative to enforce a “no vaccine, no work, no pay” policy under IATF guidelines.
This garnered the labor chief heavy criticism from labor groups, calling out his statement as a legal stretch that should not override existing laws, nor promote a policy that they have called inhumane and illegal.
Under Section 12 of Republic Act (RA) No. 11525, also known as the Covid19 Vaccination Program Act, vaccine cards are prohibited from being designated as an additional requirement for employment.
At the time, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) had also reported numerous instances of employees asking for assistance as they were being singled out by employers and having their wages withheld due to not being fully inoculated.
The growing public confusion and flak over the official stand of authorities on the controversial policy prompted Bello to once and for all clear the air of conflict, in a text message:
“This is to clarify that even if select establishments may refuse unvaccinated employees from working by virtue of the IATF resolution, they cannot terminate their workers even if unvaccinated. They cannot also withhold the salaries already earned,” the labor chief said.
He also expressed remorse for causing misunderstandings on the legality of the policy in question and added that establishments should “encourage” workers to get jabbed, rather than intimidate.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna chair and senatorial aspirant Neri Colmenares denounced Bello’s earlier stand on the issue but also pointed out that because of the national government’s snail-paced vaccination rollout, many workers who are willing to be vaccinated have not been able to.
“Our workers should not suffer for the government’s incompetence. We need sufficient supplies of vaccine variants to address different health concerns and make these vaccines available in more inoculation sites,” Colmenares explained.