A guard passes logo of ABS-CBN at the network’s compound, a day it was ordered shut by National Telecommunications Commission, May 6, 2020.
The STAR/Michael Varca
DOLE 'ready' to assist displaced ABS-CBN workers, but not in cash
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - July 14, 2020 - 5:19pm

MANILA, Philippines — The labor department said Tuesday the agency is “ready to extend the necessary assistance” to employees of ABS-CBN Corp. who will be laid off— just not in the form of cash.

In a statement, Labor Undersecretary Ana Dione took the Lopez-led network to task to ensure anyone among its 11,017 employees as of 2018, whose jobs are likely to face the chopping board, get their legally-mandated “separation benefits” once they are terminated. 

But for the part of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the most the agency could do is to offer displaced workers “opportunities on the labor market,” Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said in a phone interview.

Back in May, the media giant warned it would begin letting go some employees by August after ABS-CBN’s free TV and radio channels were shut down by the Duterte administration. The likelihood of job cuts just became more real last week when a House of Representatives committee denied the network’s application for a fresh 25-year franchise.

Already, observers said repercussions from the franchise denial would be severe, foremost of which was on direct and indirect jobs that may get ultimately lost. While Tutay said that so far DOLE has not received any request for assistance from a former ABS-CBN worker, she added the government is ready to assist anyone on finding new jobs.

“When it comes to cases such as that one, we ensure that the separation pay is really given in case of closure of establishment. We can also identify opportunities on labor market that they want to pursue,” Tutay said in a phone interview.

“We have profiling of employment facilitation services and we also offer services to those displaced who want to retool and reskill,” she added.

However, one thing the government is not mandated to provide laid off workers is cash assistance. Unlike the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Tutay explained the state is not under obligation to provide “safety net” to ABS-CBN workers who will get displaced because of company prerogatives.

“A safety net is always by reason of regulatory shocks, meaning there is a policy that is not the fault of either the employer or employee which resulted in the closure of the establishment,” she explained.

At the most, Tutay said the government may provide livelihood assistance to ABS-CBN workers who will lose their jobs, but only “if the budget permits.”

Another option for the employees is to go to another agency, the Social Security System, where they can avail of lumpsum unemployment benefits equivalent to one month salary credit worth a maximum of P20,000. 

Cash-strapped

As it is, the labor department has faced problems funding its ongoing COVID-19 contingency programs such as that for migrant workers and retrenched workers in the informal sector. Cash woes had been so severe that the agency had to discontinue its COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program last May, without being able to serve all its 2 million applicants. 

Budget problems still haunt DOLE to this day with the agency admitting recently in a statement that funds are “fast depleting” to assist a growing number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) returning home jobless. Around 300,000 OFWs were displaced as of July 4, but a fresh P2.5-billion budget for the program would only assist 250,000. 

In the case of ABS-CBN, Dione said the network is “morally bound” to pay all the lawful benefits their workers are entitled to before separation.

“Besides, our labor las mandate a company that reduces its workforce or has ceased operations to provide its employees with severance pays or similar emoluments,” Dione said. — with Prinz Magtulis

ABS-CBN CORP. ABS-CBN FRANCHISE
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