Lawmakers revive 4-day work week proposal to mitigate traffic jams

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2019 08:26 PM | Updated as of Nov 13 2019 11:53 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) - The House minority bloc is pushing for the adoption of a 4-day work week in the private sector and non-frontline national government offices as well as the maximization of the telecommuting or work-from-home law as a way to mitigate traffic jams in the country’s leading urban centers.

In a press conference, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. revived the appeal for the implementation of a shortened work week.

“I appeal to Malacañang to also study the implementation of a 4-day work week for non-frontline offices of national government agencies. In the past, the Civil Service Commission has issued guidelines for its adoption but rather than make it optional I suggest that the Palace consider the feasibility of doing this during the Holiday Season. This could also serve as a trial period to assess if such a scheme can work long-term," he said.

He also called on the private sector to consider the implementation of the telecommuting law.

“If the work of your industry is output-oriented, then by all means consider having your employees work from home, especially if they have access to the internet and can communicate and send their work without any hurdles. I also believe they should consider implementing a 4-day work week in the last month of the year just to help ease traffic congestion," Abante added.

Abante is eyeing agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, which have offices near EDSA as among those that could implement this scheme.

Former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair and now Marikina Rep. Bayani Fernando for his part believes that government agencies could help ease traffic gridlocks by improving the ease of doing business. Fernando also backed the 4-day work week scheme since it would cut the transportation costs of workers. 

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, meanwhile, prodded proponents to take caution as it may affect the delivery of public services. Garin is batting for staggered work schedules instead so laborers won’t travel or commute at the same time. 

Garin said extended work hours may affect both the health and productivity of workers. 

"If there are offices who can do part of their work on a weekend, that can possibly be also looked into," she said.

Garin batted for an efficient train system and the use of the Pasig River to transport people as other traffic mitigation measures. Garin also wants liaison officers to use motorcycles to help them move around.

Before the bloc held its press conference, the House Committee on Labor began deliberations on 2 bills advocating for a compressed work week scheme.

Deputy Speaker Lray Villafuerte’s House Bill No. 1670 and Baguio Rep. Mark Go’s House Bill No. 1904 both call for a compressed work week. Both Go and Batangas Rep. Maria Theresa Collantes, who sponsored the bill for Villafuerte, pointed out the benefits to workers in terms of transportation. 

Quoting from Villafuerte’s explanatory note, Collantes said: “This bill intends to ease the worries of employees in commuting to work by allowing alternative working arrangements.”

Go for his part said: "The flexibility in work arrangement could help ease the worsening state of traffic.”

4-day work week should be optional

The Department of Labor and Employment, through Assistant Secretary Benjo Benavidez, backed the proposals so long as they are optional. 

“Adoption of compressed work week as a flexible work arrangement shall not be legislated, the law shall only enable the companies and workers to adopt the flexible work arrangement. It should not compulsorily or mandatorily require all employers and workers to adopt a flexible work arrangement such as compressed work week. The adoption must be optional on the part of the employer. It must be the result of the voluntariness between the 2 parties," Benavidez said.

Benavidez added that the DOLE also does not want the proposal to lead to the removal or lessening of workers’ benefits.

Workers’ groups opposed the imposition of the scheme. Daniel Edralin, SENTRO Commissioner, also insisted that it be optional.

Lito Ustarez, Kilusang Mayo Uno Vice President added that compressing the work week into four days would mean workers losing quality time for family. 

He noted that commuting to work and back usually takes almost 5 hours for many workers. Adding that 12-hour work, that would mean 17 hours away from home.

Ustarez added that workers are paid by the day so cutting down the number of work days may also mean lowering salaries. 

“From 6 days gagawing 4 days, malaki 'yung mawawala, malaki 'yung magiging epekto sa kalusugan ng isang mangagawa," he said, adding that extended work hours would affect a workers' productivity. 

(From 6 days it will become 4 days, that's a big loss, it will have a big effect on the health of a worker.)

Ustarez, likewise, believes that higher wages of workers in the National Capital Region is contributing to traffic because workers from outside Metro Manila flock to the capital region in search of better wages.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines through its representative Robert Maronilla backed the proposal so long as it is optional. 

“There is no need to legislate this based on the management prerogative of employers," he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, however, pointed out that nothing in the bills states the temporary nature of the schemes.

Zarate also echoed concerns this may mean lower salaries for workers.

"May 3 araw ka ngang pahinga, wala ka namang kikitain doon,” he said.

(You may have 3 days of rest, but you won't earn anything.)

To mitigate traffic, Fernando reiterated his call for all roads to be considered as Mabuhay Lanes or alternate routes and cleared of any obstruction.

He said of some 5,800 kilometers of roadways in Metro Manila, only an estimated 20 percent are used. 

"Kung magagamit natin kahit kalahati lang ng 5,800 kilometers, malaking kaluwagan sa tao," he said.

(If we could only use half of the 5,800 kilometers, that's big help.)

Fernando also wants all vehicles to take flyovers along EDSA.