UP Law Workers And Employees Program (WEP) Holds 4th Online Roundtable Discussion With Various Labor Groups
The Workers and Employees Program (WEP) of the University of the Philippines College of Law/Law Center conducted its 4th Online Round Table Discussion (RTD) last April 2, 2022. This is the second in a series of RTDs that tackle the consolidated pandemic-related issues faced by workers and employees, which could also affect them in case of any other disease outbreak in the future. The first in the series was the WEP’s 3rd RTD, held last February 12, 2022, which discussed the original WEP proposal on pandemic-related bills and during which comments and suggestions of stakeholders were discussed.
The 4th RTD thus focused on WEP’s Proposed Disease Outbreak Benefits Bill which already incorporates the stakeholders’ suggestions. WEP considered the proposed bills from existing bills from both the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as benefits which have been duly approved by the Executive and then, drafted the consolidated bill for further consideration by stakeholders. WEP considers the proposed bill consistent with the mandate of the Constitution to afford full protection to labor. This is especially true at these most challenging times when the workers and employees are facing tough challenges day by day. As in previous RTDs, the event was attended by representatives from labor unions and federations, labor-related organizations, and government agencies, a Sectoral Representative, policy experts, labor practitioners, academics, and law students.
The 4th RTD was formally opened by WEP Member Professor Marwil N. Llasos who delivered the Welcome Remarks. Professor Llasos discussed the gravity of damages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, businesses, general health, and the lives of the people. Many businesses closed and many employees lost their work, without proper benefits.
This was followed by a brief presentation of the proposed bill by Atty. Emir V. Mendoza. Atty. Mendoza discussed the existing threats of COVID-19, which include the increase in number of cases in other Asian countries, and the possible emergence of other variants of the virus. Furthermore, outbreaks of other diseases are still possible in the future. Thus, there is a need for a law that would ensure benefits in favor of workers during any disease outbreak. Income tax deductions and credits are proposed to encourage the participation of employers, and even government reimbursement for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
Prof. Marwil N. Llasos then introduced the participants preparatory to the plenary session. These included representatives from the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the National Trade Union Center (NTUC), the Philippine Metal Workers’ Alliance (PMA), the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), SALIGAN, and the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Development (IOHSAD). Also present were Bayan Muna Representative Ferdinand R. Gaite and the Administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Hans Leo J. Cacdac.
The plenary session was moderated by Prof. Arnold F. De Vera and Prof. E. (Leo) D. Battad. Several comments were raised such as the beneficial nature of expanding the bill’s coverage to other future pandemics and epidemics, and the correctness of the coverage for non-healthcare workers who are still frontline workers. Other comments pertain to funding concerns, the inclusion of HMOs in the insurance coverage, the penalties for infractions of the bills, and the number of outbreak leaves that may be claimed.
It was clarified that while the bill aims to have the employer shoulder costs, the bill does not intend MSMEs to pay premiums; rather, it envisioned that the government would directly shoulder all costs for MSMEs. It was noted that the need for further classifications for MSMEs, such as micro or small, should be considered as a possible added qualification. Both Professor De Vera and Professor Battad remarked that in the definition of terms, the insurance coverage should include the following: consultation, diagnosis, and medication for both inpatient and outpatient services. It was also raised that the HMO of the employee may cover the cost. With regard to penalties, it was suggested that the current amount set in the bill be adjusted, as MSMEs may not be able to afford it. With regard to the number of outbreak leaves which may be claimed per year, Prof. De Vera clarified that this would depend on the IRR, since it would be difficult to base it solely on the COVID-19 experience. The executive can calibrate the guidelines depending on the nature of the disease outbreak.
After the plenary session, the roundtable discussion was concluded with a synthesis of all the issues and concerns raised during the 4th RTD. This was followed by the closing remarks from WEP Program Director, Prof. Patricia R.P. Salvador Daway who emphasized that, in the future, WEP would also discuss the challenges faced by other sectors of workers and employees, including health workers, informal workers, government contractual employees, and other sectors as raised during the 1st WEP RTD which was held on October 23, 2021. Again, Prof. Daway stressed that WEP will solicit the cooperation of workers and employees and their representatives to help craft proposed bills that will surely address the concerns and challenges of such sectors of workers and employees.