MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday clarified that members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) are now on the same page — employers can’t fire nor withhold the pay of unvaccinated workers.
“I emphasized that ‘the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021’ was clear on the non-compulsory nature of vaccination as an additional requirement for employment. Unless amended or modified by Congress, it is the existing and applicable law,” he said in a Viber exchange with the media.
Guevarra made the clarification after Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III made contradicting statements as to whether businesses with dine-in and in-person services, can fire or withhold salaries of their employees.
Bello said on Thursday last week that a new IATF resolution which allows restaurants and personal care services to operate at a certain capacity if their workers are fully vaccinated may be used as legal basis to implement a “no vaccine, no work” or “no vaccine, no pay” policy.
On Saturday, Guevarra disagreed with Bello.
“The subject IATF resolution placing the NCR under alert level 3 and authorizing certain establishments to open their doors to customers or clients simply provides that they may do so as long as their staff or employees are all vaccinated. This means that these establishments should encourage their staff or employees to get vaccinated, otherwise they may not be allowed to open for business,” he said.
“But they may not compel their employees or staff to get themselves vaccinated, because there is a law, the ‘COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021,’ that expressly states that vaccination cards shall not be a mandatory requirement for employment (both for recruitment and maintenance of employment), among others,” he explained.
He went on to clarify that the IATF resolution was not meant to provide a legal basis to compel vaccination.
“Still, the only permissible approach is moral suasion, coupled with greater access to the vaccine,” he said.
He promised to raise the issue during the next IATF meeting, which took place on Tuesday this week.
DOLE TO ALIGN POLICY PRONOUNCEMENTS
Guevarra said Thursday that while Bello was not present during Tuesday’s meeting, his department, the Department of Labor and Employment, was duly represented.
“Wala namang nag-express ng any different or contrary position among the IATF members. The DOLE duly noted our advice and stated that it will align its policy pronouncements accordingly,” he said.
Guevarra however clarified that there is no need for the IATF to issue another resolution as “it was a mere affirmation of what an existing law already provides.”
VACCINATION AS A CONDITION FOR PRE-EMPLOYMENT?
But even before Guevarra made the clarification, Bello himself already backtracked on his statement, clarifying last Friday that employers cannot terminate their workers who are unvaccinated.
An unresolved issue is whether employers may refuse to hire an employee solely on the basis of being unvaccinated.
Bello said in his clarificatory statement that “select establishments may refuse unvaccinated employees from working.”
Sought for clarification on this matter, Guevarra said he is leaving it to Bello to make the clarificatory labor policy statements as his role as Justice secretary is only to set the general legal framework.