MANILA (UPDATE) - Labor groups on Friday denounced a proposal to allow distressed small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to defer payment of 13th month pay to their workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking to Teleradyo, Kilusang Mayong Uno chairperson Elmer Labog urged the government to bail out businesses still struggling to stay afloat as a result of the crisis.
"Mali na gawing sacrificial lamb ang mga manggagawa lalo pa't gipit ngayon at marami ang nangangailangan ng pondo," he said.
(It's wrong to make workers as sacrificial lamb since they are also cash-strapped.)
Should the government grant such a plan, the labor group leader warned some companies may exploit the situation.
"Unang-una 'pag sinabi mong deferred o exempted, marami ang magsasamantala diyan eh. Wala pa ngang pandemya marami na kaming natatanggap na reklamo sa bayaran ng 13th month pay," he said.
(First, if you'll say deferred or exempted, many will exploit the situation. Even before the pandemic, we had received complaints regarding the 13th month pay.)
Instead, he said the government could subsidize the 13th month pay, which is a twelfth of a worker's basic salary and should be given not later than Dec. 24 of every year.
"Kailagan talagang i-release ito lalo't bahagi ito ng tinatawag na pagtugon do'n sa emergencies sa ilalim na COVID-19 pandemic," Labog said.
(It should be released since its part of emergency assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
For his part, Defend Jobs Philippines spokesperson Christian Lloyd Magsoy said deferment of the government-mandated bonus would become a major burden to workers as Christmas draws nearer.
"Bahagi 'yan ng mga benepisyo na dapat makukuha ng mga manggagawa na hindi dapat ipinagkakait sa kanila," he said.
(It's part of the benefits workers should receive and that should not be deprived to them.)
But if given a company is distressed, they should provide evidence such as audited financial statement to prove their claim, said lawyer Arnel Magcalas.
"Under the labor law, the company can't simply say that they are in distress. It is a factual matter. They should prove it," he said in a separate interview.
Under Presidential Decree 851, distressed employers such as those currently incurring substantial losses are exempted from giving their employees the 13th-month pay.
Also excused are non-profit institutions and organizations, where their income, whether from donations, contributions, grants and other earnings from any source, have consistently declined by more than forty percent of their normal income for the last 2 years.
Errant companies will be held liable and can face closure or suspension of business operation, said Magcalas, a labor law practitioner.
An aggrieved employee can file a labor complaint before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), he added.
In a virtual briefing Thursday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they were mulling a proposal for distressed SMEs to be exempted or defer the payment of 13th month pay to their workers.
Since the coronavirus upended lives and livelihoods, some 13,127 companies had laid off workers or permanently closed while 116,471 others had temporarily closed or observed flexible working arrangements, data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) showed.
The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) earlier said 2 million workers may not receive their 13th month this year.