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'Inhuman': TUCP urges swift action on reported 'no vaccine, no salary' schemes

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'Inhuman': TUCP urges swift action on reported 'no vaccine, no salary' schemes
Photo shows frontliners and other essential personnel lining up for vaccination at the Navotas Fish Port Complex on Monday, June 7, under the vaccination program of the Navotas City government.
Release / Navotas City PIO

MANILA, Philippines — A labor coalition condemned Sunday what it called the "inhuman and illegal" imposition of a "no vaccine, no salary" scheme by some employers and urged the labor department to take action. 

In a statement, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines said that some employers have reportedly withheld the salary of unvaccinated employees until they can show vaccination cards that prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The TUCP strongly condemns workplace arm-twisting being done by these employers. This is clearly an act of reprehensible discrimination and harassment imposed on helpless workers," said Rep. Raymond Mendoza (TUCP party-list). 

According to the lawmaker, workers from different enterprises have reported being deprived of their salaries until they showed vaccination cards proving they are fully vaccinated.

The same workers sought the TUCP's assistance to intervene on their behalf for fear of reprisals, of being singled out, or even losing their jobs if they go public with their complaints.

"We warn employers that such a scheme to compel workers to get vaccinated is contrary and unlawful pursuant to Article 116 of the Labor Code and is punishable by a fine or imprisonment," Mendoza said.

Vaccination against COVID-19 is highly encouraged but is not yet mandatory since Congress has yet to pass legislation for it. Although President Rodrigo Duterte has hinted at requiring everyone to get vaccinated, the Palace said this week that a vaccine mandate might not be released any time soon.

"Because I think the level of individuals who want to be vaccinated is already very high so maybe we don't need it for now," the president's spokesperson said

The TUCP statement comes after the Department of Labor and Employment also issued Labor Advisory No. 03-21 which prohibits compelled vaccination, saying: 

"Covered establishments and employers shall endeavor to encourage their employees to get vaccinated. However, any employee who refuses or fails to be vaccinated shall not be discriminated against in terms of tenure, promotion, training, pay, and other benefits, among others, or terminated from employment. No vaccine, no work policy shall not be allowed."

Around 300 firms have moved to procure vaccines for their employees although most employers have relied on the rollout of the government's vaccination program.

More than 23 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to government data. The Palace said earlier in the week that some 7.57 million, or 77.53% , of the eligible population of Metro Manila are now fully vaccinated.

Another 8.92 million or 91.25% have received a first dose.

While Metro Manila is the economic and financial center, many workers live outside the capital.

RELATED: For people in provinces near Manila, inclusion in 'NCR Plus' more a minus 

What does the law say?  

Article 116 of the Labor Code of the Philippines also says: "It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to withhold any amount from the wages of a worker or induce him to give up any part of his wages by force, stealth, intimidation, threat, or by any other means whatsoever without the worker's consent."

Mendoza, also TUCP president, said the trade unions' group has asked the DOLE to conduct immediate inspections of identified workplaces and ensure that unvaccinated workers are paid an amount equivalent to double the unpaid wages owing to them as provided by the Double Indemnity Law.

The labor leader said compelling workers to get vaccinated by withholding workers' wages and denying employees' full compensation for work performed or rendered is not only a violation of the Labor Code but obviously also a human rights violation.

Republic Act No. 8188, which increased the criminal penalty for violators of the minimum wage law and imposed double indemnity, also reads:

"Any employer concerned shall be ordered to pay an amount equivalent to double the unpaid benefits owing to the employees. Provided, that payment of indemnity shall not absolve the employer from the criminal liability imposable under this Act. If this violation is committed by a corporation, trust or firm, partnership, association, or any other entity the penalty of imprisonment shall be imposed upon the entity's responsible officers, including, but not limited to, the president, vice-president, chief executive officer, general manager, managing director or partner."

Mendoza added that "no vaccine, no wage" schemes also violate a section in Republic Act No. 11525 or the "Act Establishing the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Expediting the Vaccine Procurement and Administration Process" saying vaccine cards "shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for education, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes." 

"The DOLE must act immediately before this practice spreads and becomes a norm," Mendoza said as he urged Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to issue an advisory "clearly outlining the fines and imprisonment imposable on employers for withholding the salaries of unvaccinated employees."

— with a report from Xave Gregorio

TRADE UNION CONGRESS OF THE PHILIPPINES TUCP
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