No mandatory vaccination for employees – Guevarra

By: Dona Z. Pazzibugan - Reporter - Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 29,2021 - 09:27 AM

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. | Philippine Daily Inquirer photo

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has set the record straight on the official policy regarding COVID-19 vaccination of employees in the workplace, saying there is no law that mandates it.

“I clarified this during the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) meeting last Tuesday. 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,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“Unless amended or modified by Congress, it is the existing and applicable law,” he said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who has made exemptions to the policy against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, was on an official trip overseas and did not attend the IATF meeting.

But the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) was represented in the meeting.

“No one expressed 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,” Guevarra said.

Bello drew flak from labor groups last week when he justified a “no vaccine, no work” policy for unvaccinated workers in establishments with dine-in or in-person services.

The COVID-19 vaccination law or Republic Act No. 11525 signed last February provides that vaccine cards “shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for education, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.”

Bello, however, also claimed that employers are within their right to include COVID-19 vaccination among the qualifications for job applicants.

He would later correct himself and say vaccinations cannot be made a requirement for employment, but companies may also forbid employees from reporting for work (and hence receive no pay) if they remain unvaccinated.

“The rule is, you cannot compel a worker to get vaccinated,” Bello said, adding that RA 11525 was meant to encourage nationwide vaccinations and the policy could change within days.

“Under the IATF resolution … [certain] employers cannot have employees come to work if they are not vaccinated,” Bello said.

But “even if select establishments may refuse unvaccinated employees from working by virtue of the IATF resolution, they cannot terminate their workers even if unvaccinated. They cannot also withhold the salaries already earned.”

At any rate, Bello said quarantine rules were fluid and may change within weeks because of the decreasing number of cases in Metro Manila.

DOLE has received the first formal complaint against a company unlawfully implementing a “no vaccine, no work” policy.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) asked Director Teresita Cucueco of the DOLE’s bureau of working conditions to immediately order an inspection of Suntrust Properties Inc. to put a stop to the illegal policy.

In a text message on Thursday, Cucueco said she has forwarded the TUCP’s complaint to the DOLE regional office in Metro Manila “and they are acting on it.”

According to TUCP president and party-list Rep. Raymond Mendoza, the workers were given until Nov. 1 to show proof of their vaccination, otherwise, they would be barred entry and their contracts will not be renewed.

The complaint said Suntrust Properties workers are not regular employees but “independent contractors,” or contractual employees.

Suntrust Properties is a wholly-owned subsidiary of property developer Megaworld Corp.

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TAGS: COVID-19, COVID-19 pandemic, IATF, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, mandatory vaccination, no jab no work policy

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