Why is DOLE still using a martial law labor code?
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

How can this nation move forward when the legal framework of labor laws and regulations is vintage 1974?

I was a new lawyer in the early seventies, and Secretary Blas Ople took me under his wing, mentored me, and shared with me his vision of a whole new world predicted by Alvin Toffler in his three masterpieces: “Future Shock,” “Power Shift,” and “The Third Wave.” I didn’t expect the Labor Code that he asked us to draft would remain almost as is, 45 years later. The only notable changes were introduced by Senator Boy Herrera and Congressman Bert Veloso, known as RA 6715 in 1989.

The Labor Code, Presidential Decree 442, is an anachronism in a free and democratic Philippines. It was signed into law by a dictator and intended to address massive and turbulent social and economic problems, which martial law sought to solve. The Labor Code is a martial law document where the executive lorded it over the nation, with a subservient judiciary and without any legislative branch. The Labor Code is no longer suited to today’s realities. We are now in a globalized economy where employers and businessmen should have enough space to manage their businesses and not to be stifled by government interventions.

Today, employers are being dictated by government on the work arrangements. Employers and employees aren’t given freedom to contract terms and conditions mutually acceptable given the behavior of the global markets. The Labor Code dictates employers on status of employment, wages and benefits, and restricts contracting to the extent that its intervention becomes virtual prohibition. The government interferes and restricts the management’s prerogatives to hire, fire, transfer, promote, lay off, discipline, and dismiss employee. The government distrust employers, thus many investors have already transferred to Vietnam and Thailand.

There is too much stress on workers' rights, without due regard to their duties and obligations. Many employees guilty of serious offenses are coddled by DOLE officials. NLRC arbiters and commissioners keep issuing orders to pay millions in baseless money claims and backwages, even when employees weren’t dismissed but walked out of their jobs. Many employees found positive for drugs have to be rehabilitated and cannot be dismissed even if they pose a danger to other employees and the employers.

Even when workers don’t have any complaint, labor inspectors come like “guardia civiles” and threaten management with closure or stoppage of operations, based only on a one-time sight by an overeager inspector. The inspector talks informally to one or two workers, and makes a sweeping conclusion covering hundreds if not thousands of workers. Then the regional director swallows his report hook, line, and sinker, then orders the principal to absorb all the workers of the agency. The branding of labor-only contractor is a kiss of death and legitimate businesses are being killed left and right. This tokhang of legal agencies is granted license by DOLE itself.

Is this really what Duterte wants? Or are the underlings merely overacting, and exceeding the bounds of their mandate and legal authority. The Supreme Court has a legal term for such an aberration: Grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.

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