What the heel?!

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ATTY. DODO DULAY

ATTY. DODO DULAY

IN the Philippines, there is a popular department store where the salesladies adhere to a particular aesthetic—blue eye shadow, chalky face powder, pink lipstick, and polyester uniform and three-inch heels. Depending on the time of day, one will see a few of them standing on one leg and shifting uncomfortably. I can just imagine the soreness and physical discomfort they must feel at the end of each working day having to stand or walk while attending to numerous shoppers, all for a minimum wage.

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Requiring them to wear heels while standing for long periods almost seems inhuman, especially in this day and age when gender equality and women empowerment is the norm. It sometimes seems incredulous how this practice has become commonplace, let alone customary.

Our society appears to have adopted the Western view that women look more attractive in high heels but there’s nothing glamorous about a person who has to count calluses, blisters, bunions, and ingrown nails (common among high-heel wearers) as part of the job.

But the danger isn’t only skin-deep. According to osteopathic physicians, high heels place the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren’t limited to the feet. Doctors say it’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body. In fact, the wearing of high heels has become a workplace health and safety issue that the Canadian province of British Columbia already passed a law banning mandatory high heels for work.

We therefore have to give credit to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd for issuing Department Order 178-17 on the “Safety and Health Measures for Workers who by the Nature of Their Work Have to Stand at Work.” For decades, big business imposed this outdated and inimical job requirement on hapless workers. Bello is actually the first labor chief to address this discriminatory and hazardous practice.

Under his leadership, DOLE finally heeded the call of women—from security guards, department stores sales ladies, promo girls, waitresses, receptionists, and flight attendants – who have longed for the day when mandatory dress codes did not force them to wear high heels. Under the DO, shoes taller than an inch may be worn provided they have a wide wedge.

The DO also requires establishments to give “sitting breaks” to both male and female workers whose jobs require prolonged standing, and to provide seats for them.

It is medically recognized that working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. Excessive standing also causes the joints in the spine, hips, knees and feet to become temporarily immobilized or locked. This immobility can later lead to rheumatic diseases due to degenerative damage to the tendons and ligaments (the structures that bind muscles to bones).

Another groundbreaking DO from Secretary Bello is the recently issued Department Order 182-17 on the “Guidelines Governing the Employment and Working Conditions of Health Personnel in the Private Healthcare Industry.”

Signed by Bello last September 22, 2017, the DO benefits the largest group of healthcare workers in the Philippines—nurses. With the DO, health care workers in hospitals and clinics with a bed capacity of at least 100 shall render eight regular working hours a day for five days a week only. The exceptions are when there are exigencies of the service that require the worker to work for six days, or 48 hours. For these employees, they are to be given additional compensation of at least 30 percent of their regular wage.

Moreover, a compressed work scheme—meaning longer daily working hours for fewer work days—cannot be adopted in health services or in occupations exposed to airborne contaminants or toxic chemicals.

Private healthcare employers are now required to provide health personnel not less than one hour of non-compensable time off (or breaks) for regular meals. Meal periods of not less than 20 minutes are allowed provided that shorter meal periods are credited as “compensable” (or paid) hours. Employers are also mandated to consult with the workers’ union concerning details of night work schedules. Healthcare workers must agree to changes in schedule prior to implementation.

With the DO, the waiting time for endorsement of cases to the next shift is now considered compensable working hours. The time that health care worker is required to remain on call within the hospital premises is also considered working time.

More importantly, Secretary Bello’s order puts an end to the practice of many unscrupulous hospitals hiring so-called “trainees,” “apprentices” or “volunteers” who are made to work for free, or worse, asked to pay a “training fee” in return for a certificate attesting to their work experience—a crucial document for healthcare workers seeking to work abroad.

The new DO also mandates that training programs or apprenticeships “shall be at no cost to the [worker].” Furthermore, real “volunteer” work can only be rendered in Department of Health (DOH)-accredited hospitals or government hospitals. For profit-oriented hospitals, “volunteer” work will be considered as compensable (or paid) work and covered by the labor standards set by the Labor Code for common employees.

The impact of these pioneering department orders did not appear to gain much mileage in mainstream media. But in the realm of occupational safety, these new guidelines upgrading the working conditions of many ordinary workers are nothing short of revolutionary.

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