by Mayen Jaymalin – The Philippine Star, 22 Oct 2021
MANILA, Philippines — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello yesterday said certain establishments are allowed to require their workers to get vaccinated, based on a resolution issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), despite the absence of an enabling law.
“The legal basis of restaurants, spas and other similar establishments (to require vaccination among employees) is the resolution of the IATF,” said Bello, citing how these workers are engaged in dining or in-person services.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), however, stressed that vaccination is not a requirement to gain employment, and it is discriminatory and illegal for employers to demand vaccination cards before hiring job applicants.
During the Laging Handa public briefing, Labor Undersecretary Ana Dione said, “The requirement that an employee must be vaccinated has no basis in law. That means, it cannot be imposed by companies.”
Likewise, an employer cannot terminate an employee for simply refusing to get vaccinated, Dione said.
“To cite unvaccinated as the basis of termination – it’s been said and repeated – that’s discrimination. If the termination is solely based on being unvaccinated, that’s illegal,” she said in Filipino.
The Federation of Free Workers (FFW) questioned the legality of the IATF resolution, which it claimed is contrary to the voluntary vaccination policy.
“The power of compulsory inoculation, especially if accompanied by penalties or sanctions like not giving work to enforce obedience or compliance, must have a legislative mandate,” said FFW president Sonny Matula.
Matula argued that the IATF cannot bend the law by the mere issuance of a resolution.
A law may be needed to bar businesses from hiring unvaccinated persons, Malacañang said yesterday, as it expressed confidence in a faster vaccine rollout amid an adequate supply of jabs.
“Well, kinakailangan po siguro ng batas kung ipagbabawal iyong pagha-hire ng mga non-vaccinated individuals (Perhaps a law is needed to prohibit the hiring of non-vaccinated individuals),” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said at a press briefing.
“We have proven that we can fast-track that (vaccination) because in Metro Manila, more than 80 percent have been vaccinated. Before, our problem was the supply. Now, we have a lot of supplies,” he said.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. previously said there would be no discrimination if an employer refuses to hire a person who is not yet inoculated against COVID-19. He pointed out that companies have the responsibility to protect their personnel and customers against health risks.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, however, recently said companies cannot reject unvaccinated applicants, citing the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which states that vaccine cards “shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.”
‘It’s illegal’ Lawmakers disapprove
In Congress, Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva stressed that the “no vaccine, no pay” policy reportedly practiced by some employers is not only unconstitutional but very “uncompassionate” and “ungodly.”
“While it has been made clear by the Department of Labor and Employment that such is illegal, I would like to add that, more importantly, such policy is devoid of compassion,” said Villanueva, a pastor and representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list.
“Depriving laborers of salary they rightfully earned with sweat and blood is a spit on the face of human dignity and the dignity of work,” he said. “CIBAC condemns the unlawful and ungodly practice.”
Another administration legislator, Rep. Eric Pineda of 1Pacman party-list who sits as chairman of the House committee on labor and employment, said “requiring a person to be vaccinated just so that they may be able to make a living is not right.”
“I don’t agree with the ‘no jab, no job’ policy. I don’t believe that it should be forced upon our people. Restricting access to a livelihood on the basis of one’s choice not to be vaccinated is violative of their basic right to choose, their right to free will,” he said.
Palace reacts to IMF warning
Meanwhile, Malacañang allayed the concern raised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has warned that the low vaccination rate in the Philippines would affect the economy.
“Well, that’s why we are fast-tracking the vaccination. More than 30 percent of the entire Philippines and more than 80 percent of Metro Manila have been vaccinated. We have enough supply and we expect the vaccination to be faster,” Roque said.
As of Oct. 20, about 24.88 million persons or 32.25 percent of the country’s eligible population have been fully vaccinated as 53.84 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered nationwide.
In Metro Manila, the country’s economic center, the vaccination rate is at 81.40 percent of the eligible population or about 7.96 million individuals.
Roque said the Duterte administration would deliver vaccines to Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) and other provinces to raise the Philippines’ overall vaccination rate.
Asked to react to the proposal to impose vaccination quotas per province, Roque said the government’s pandemic task force need not tackle the matter.
“It is just an implementation of the vaccination program, only the NTF (National Task Force against COVID-19) can decide on that,” the Palace spokesman said.
The Duterte administration has raised its daily vaccination target from 500,000 to 1.5 million to achieve a “happy Christmas” this year. – Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla