Countless workers are facing a bleak Christmas due to the possible cancellation or deferment of their 13th month pay benefits brought about by the Covid19 pandemic that has hobbled the economy to no end.
According to the Department of Labor & Employment (DOLE), workers in the private sector should brace themselves for this dire scenario especially if they are connected with “distressed” companies that were forced to their knees when Malacanang placed the entire nation under a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, thus causing revenues to nosedive to the point of bankruptcy.
Truth be told, this lockdown is still being enforced here after some eight months, the longest of its kind in the world. In spite of this, the country is the topnotcher in Southeast Asian in terms of infections (with 346,536 as of Oct. 14, 2020).
DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello said over two million workers would be adversely affected if the giving of the 13th month pay as mandated by Presidential Decree 851 of 1975 is cancelled, deferred or postponed.
Under PD 851, rank-and-file employees of private sector companies should receive their 13th month pay not later than Dec. 24.
Various labor groups were quick to crucify the DOLE for floating this idea. They said it would only exacerbate the sorry plight of ordinary workers who have borne the brunt of the effects of the pandemic.
However, the DOLE pointed out that per the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of PD 851 crafted by the late Labor Secretary Blas Ople, distressed companies are exempted from giving 13th month pay (equivalent to one-twelfth of one’s annual salary) to their workers.
The DOLE said the implementation of this provision cannot be disregarded unless it is amended by Congress.
In total agreement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Malacanang cannot force private companies to “give something they do not have.”
“It is like squeezing blood from stone,” according sources in the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP).
“Saan ‘yung panggagalingan ng 13th month pay kung walang income, bunga ng pag-istrikto ng IATF at wala silang pinayagang negosyong magbukas sa loob ng halos walong buwan?” the ECOP said.
Sec. Bello said the only way out of this predicament is for the government to “subsidize” whatever funds are needed at this time by distressed companies to pay their workers.
“Siguro, lalambingin na lang namin ni (Trade Secretary) Mon Lopez si (Finance Secretary) Sonny Dominguez para makahingi ng pera para dito,” Bello jested during a radio interview.