THE typhoon season is here and it is essential for the government, together with employers and employees, to ensure that practical and reasonable work arrangements are in place when heavy rains and floods disrupt work in various workplaces.
This would help prevent unnecessary disputes and confusion and ensure the safety of employees and the smooth operation of their organizations.
Many companies in various trades and industries need their employees to keep working even during the worst of times, including those in public transport, public utilities, medical services, hotels, security and business process outsourcing.
The Department of Labor and Employment should ensure the safety of employees in their workplaces as well as on their journey to and from work.
It should take into account the possible inconvenience and difficulties employees face when they work during typhoons and other natural calamities, as well as what would happen if work is suspended in certain industries.
It should look into each company or sector’s guidelines on work arrangements in times of typhoons, floods and other calamities. Indeed, each company should have one in their booklet of office policies.
These guidelines should adopt a flexible and suitable approach for work arrangements during the worst of times.
Take employees in the BPO industry for example. They are required to work or continue working even when work has been suspended because of floods and heavy rains.
The nature of work in most call centers demand service for clients in the US and other countries overseas, where people are probably oblivious about what is happening in the Philippines at that particular time. Popular BPO services here include phone banking and customer service and technical support, which are 24/7 duties regardless of inclement weather.
But BPO companies should be more considerate to their employees’ safety and welfare if there is massive flooding in the areas where they work or reside.
BPO workers should be able to avail themselves of their emergency leave without any sanctions. Employees should also be allowed to stay in their offices, perhaps given food and lodging, if travel is no longer possible. If travel is possible, shuttle services must be made available to them. In fairness to other BPO companies, this is already part of their standard practice. But not all companies do so.
Another example is when a worker finds out that his or her children are stranded in school because classes have been suspended. Emergencies like this must be considered with compassion. Workers should be allowed to pick up their kids or take care of other emergencies, perhaps using emergency or ‘’compassionate’’ leaves.
DOLE recently urged companies and employers to reward their employee who reported for work during the onslaught of Typhoon “Glenda.”
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said that employees do not currently receive additional pay aside from their salary for the day even if they worked during inclement weather.
“To alleviate the plight of employees in times of crisis, employers may provide such extra incentives or benefits to employees who reported for work,” Baldoz said.
She also encouraged companies to provide free transportation, food, personal protective equipment and first-aid medicines, if necessary, to their workers during calamities.
But the Labor department should go beyond mere pleas for companies to be more considerate and generous.
It should make clear to both employers and employees that if natural disasters strike and employees cannot attend work they have rights like leave credits they can avail themselves of under the Labor Code.
DOLE should also make sure that occupational health and safety laws that provide for the welfare of employees are being followed.
This is another area where DOLE could really help. What happens, for instance, if an employer cannot continue his business as a result of floods? If his shop, for instance, was destroyed by a typhoon? What payments, entitlements or other types of assistance are due to employees in this scenario? What provisions do we have in our laws that deal with business closures due to natural disasters? Does the employer simply stop paying his employees until they are able to return to their jobs? Shouldn’t employees be able to use their leave entitlements until they can return to work? What are the alternatives for both employers and employees?
It is important for the Labor department to clarify these issues because these scenarios are very real possibilities in a country that ranks as the third most disaster-prone country in the world.