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Monday, December 29, 2008

DOLE YEARENDER: Workers Benefit as DOLE Helped Improve Working Conditions

Last Part of a Series of Four

The year 2008 will be remembered for the remarkable rise in the price of petroleum products in the global market as well as the financial meltdown that stemmed from the US in the third quarter of the year which continues to impact on major markets around the world at present. Despite the exigencies brought about by these adverse events, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) was quick to respond to lessen the brunt on the workers.

The DOLE didn’t have to prepare or formulate new programs to respond to the extraordinary needs of the times as most of the contingency plans were regular fare of the Department aimed at alleviating workers’ plight. If at all, only critical adjustments have to be made to make the policies and programs more responsive and appropriate to DOLE clients.

Wage increase and non-wage benefits

On Labor Day, Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque instructed all the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPBs) to fasttrack sectoral consultations in their respective areas for the immediate issuance of new wage orders. Roque’s directive came in the wake of increasing prices of oil products and rice even while the last wage orders have yet to reach the reglementary one-year period before a new one can be issued.

Under the rules governing wage increase, the regional boards must declare the existence of “supervening conditions” for them to be allowed to hear petitions for wage increase even before the one-year reglementary period expires. A supervening condition exists when there is an extraordinary increase in the prices of petroleum, manufactured products, and basic commodities.

For a long while that such incidence has not taken place, the DOLE’s National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) affirmed the existence of supervening conditions in all regions, except for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, and thus resulted in the issuance of new wage orders. The National Capital Region, traditionally the earliest petitioners for wage hikes, was the first to grant a new wage increase for 2008 – an additional P15 on the basic pay and P5 cost of living allowance.

The Department’s intervention did not stop with the issuance of said wage orders. Immediately, Roque formed a body that would identify and help implement non-wage measures with labor and management. As a result, a DOLE Inter-Agency Committee on Non-Wage Benefits for Workers was established in line with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s earlier directive to convene tripartite meetings where social partners can discuss the grant of additional non-wage benefits to workers. In July this year, 43 companies in the Calabarzon area entered into an agreement with government agencies assuring their participation in gearing up programs to help workers cope with the rising cost of fuel and food products.

Among the more unique programs proposed by the DOLE was the establishment of day-care centers especially in workplaces with more women workers. According to the DOLE Chief, such an endeavor would help workers lessen the cost of early childhood education and ensure the health and safety of the workers’ children. On the employers’ side, they too would benefit in terms of sustained efficiency and productivity of workers who would no longer be bothered by family and economic pressures in looking after the welfare and safety of their young children while they are at work.

Employers who establish and operate corporate-based day-care centers can also gain tax incentives under Republic Act 8980 or “An Act Promulgating a Comprehensive Policy and a National System for Early Child Care and Development, Providing Funds Therefore and For Other Purposes”. Roque said that under the DOLE’s family welfare program, 20 large firms nationwide will soon be putting up day-care facilities in their workplaces.

Labor standards, health and safety

As a continuing commitment, the Department conducted a nationwide inspection blitz in the first half of the year, resulting in the awarding or settlement of more than P37 million due to correction of labor standards violations at various establishments. It benefited more than 18,000 workers. Roque said the DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC), the lead agency for the inspection activity in coordination with the DOLE regional offices, disclosed that the necessary corrections have been applied under the DOLE's Labor Standards Enforcement Framework (LSEF) on violations of core labor standards particularly the minimum wage, and social welfare benefits specifically SSS, PagIbig, and PhilHealth.

He added that under the LSEF, a nationwide inspection blitz goal covering over 30,000 companies in the country’s 16 regions has been set for the entire 2008. From January to May alone, the lean corps of 142 labor inspectors were able to inspect 8,555 establishments with close to 205,000 total number of workers.

Alongside compliance with core labor standards, Roque urged all regional offices to intensify inspection of firms particularly their compliance with health and safety standards to avoid work-related fatalities and injuries. This year, the DOLE recognized 48 firms that have achieved safety milestones in implementing occupational safety and health programs, subsequently preventing the occurrence of accidents and disabling and fatal injuries in the workplace.

The honored establishments were responsible for preventing a combined number of more than 900,000 cases of disabling accidents and almost 70,000 mandays lost which could have happened in their worksites had they not complied with OSH standards and other labor laws. Equating them to actual costs, the 48 firms were able to save more than P20 million in manpower replacements and medical expenses.

Significantly, Roque issued DOLE Department Circular No.2, series of 2008, amending Rule 1003.03 of the occupational safety and health standards of the 1974 Labor Code, thereby expanding the OSHS coverage to include establishments engaged in land, sea, and air transportation. Prior to the issuance of said order, these companies were not covered by OSHS except their garages, dry docks, port hangars, and maintenance and repair shops. Roque stressed that protecting workers from hazardous workplaces is part of the national efforts to ensure the conservation of valuable manpower resources and the prevention of loss or damage to lives and properties.

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