BMP: Workers without unions at most risk from 'voluntary' wage, benefit cuts amid pandemic
Photo dated April 30 shows workers seen conducting road reblocking in Caloocan. May 1 marks Labor Day.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
BMP: Workers without unions at most risk from 'voluntary' wage, benefit cuts amid pandemic
Franco Luna ( - May 24, 2020 - 5:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — Workers' alliance Buklurang Manggagawang Pilipino on Sunday said the labor department seems to be on the side of management for allowing employers to negotiate wage cuts with workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Department of Labor and Employment, in Labor Advisory No. 17 dated Monday, May 18, that employers can negotiate with their workers' to "voluntarily" slash 'wages and related benefits for up to six months.

"You're really laying off workers and reducing salaries now, in the middle of an emergency? These are extraordinary times and nobody asked for this," BMP president Luke Espiritu said in Filipino. 

The group also said that workers who do not have or are not members of unions would be more vulnerable to pressure from management to accept lower wages for the same amount of work.

"They're framing it as, instead of closing down or laying off workers, it must be better to lower wages," Espiritu said. 

BMP also said that the advisory would allow employers to impose "crunch hours" and overwork their employees for lower wages. 

"Managements and employers have wanted to do that since before COVID, but now DOLE just gave them a reason to," Espiritu also said. 

In a May 18 statement, DOLE said it is pushing to preserve employment as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Aside from allowing the "voluntary" reduction in wages to avoid layoffs, the labor advisory also  "'highly encourages' work-from-home and telecommuting for employees in businesses and industries already allowed to resume operations."

It also lists alternative work arrangements like transferring people to another branch or another function ot position, the reduction of work days and work hours.

"We know that businesses have suffered so much, but for the sake of our economy we encourage them to dig deeper into their vast reserve of charity and benevolence so that their workers and the communities can continue to further weather this crisis that we are all facing and fighting together," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in the DOLE statement.

This comes as the general public begins to troop back to work in some industries in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine and general community quarantine.

'Unorganized workers don't have protection'

Labor unions have long been calling for mass testing, sufficient aid, paid quarantine leave, and hazard pay for workers. 

In their webinar, BMP said that workers who are not organized into unions could be the most affected by possible changes in their work setups because they do not have pro

"What are you going to do if you're not organized? Many workers are going to be affected by this proclamation, and some of them won't be able to do anything if they're told their salary is being cut for the sake of keeping everyone employed," BMP organizer Richard Kahulugan said in Filipino. 

The right to organize is enshrined in both the nation's charter and its labor code, although unions are sometimes perceived as being anti-business and also often portrayed as front organizations for communist rebels.

Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution reads:

It shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations, and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law. They shall be entitled to security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage.

BMP chairperson Leody de Guzman, a candidate for senator in the 2019 elections, slammed the DOLE and called it "the department of management", saying it is allowing the negotiation for lower salaries and for the suspension of benefits already in Collective Bargaining Agreements.

"The department of labor isn't for labor," he said. "Everything they did, including allowing the suspension of holiday pay on May 1, has been for managements and not workers." 

RELATED: DOLE: Employers may defer Labor Day holiday pay

The Nagkaisa Labor Coalition in a statement May 19 also called for a recall of the labor advisory, pointing out that it could be used to threaten workers with dismissal. 

"Coming from a long ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), workers, especially those who are unorganized, may have no option except to follow the wishes of their employers," added Nagkaisa.

According to De Guzman on Sunday, BMP's data showed that less than 10% of the labor force is organized in a union. 

"Management will have a field day in exploiting workers because many workers will accept the proposition just so they don't lose their jobs," the group added. 

"Imagine, it was the labor department who gave the go signal to lower salaries for workers instead of closing and laying off in their department orders. Why don't they tell management not to remove workers or use COVID-19 as an excuse to do so?"

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