Guevarra says COVID-19 vaccination not employment requirement
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Saturday sided with labor groups, pointing out that a law that President Rodrigo Duterte signed early this year barred employers from forcing their workers to get inoculated against COVID-19.
Guevarra said he would discuss the matter with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was flayed by union leaders for claiming that a resolution issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) allowed some businesses to enforce the “no vaccine, no work” and “no vaccine, no pay” policies.
Bello, a lawyer and a former justice undersecretary himself, has since backpedalled from his previous statement and clarified that companies cannot fire employees or withhold their salaries if they are not fully vaccinated.
“I really regret that I have to disagree with my dear colleague Secretary Bello on this matter,” Guevarra told the INQUIRER in a Viber message.
The justice secretary, a regular member of the IATF, also apologized for the mix-up, which could have been discussed by the Cabinet members had the body’s meeting last Thursday was not canceled.
“I’m sorry for any resulting confusion,” he said.
Guevarra said the IATF guidelines that Bello had cited, which placed Metro Manila under Alert Level 3, actually authorized certain establishments, such as those in the food and personal care services, to accommodate customers “as long as their staff (members) 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 (members) to get themselves vaccinated because there is a law… that expressly states that vaccination cards shall not be a mandatory requirement for employment,” he stressed.
Guevarra was referring to Republic Act No. 11525, also known as the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which Duterte signed on Feb. 26.
Section 12 of the law stated that vaccination cards “shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for education, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.”
Guevarra said this provision applies “both for recruitment and maintenance of employment.”
“Unless the (law) is amended, or its IRR (implementing rules and regulations) clarified, that is the existing law on the matter that no executive issuance can modify,” he maintained.
Asked if he would raise the issue in the next IATF meeting, he said: “We will surely put this on the table… I’ll discuss it more thoroughly with Secretary Bello.”
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) had earlier disclosed that certain employers are illegally refusing to pay the salary of their workers until they can show proof that they have been fully vaccinated.
TUCP president and party-list Rep. Raymond Mendoza said such policy violates Article 116 of the Labor Code, which prohibits employers from withholding the salaries of workers “by force, stealth, intimidation, threat or by any other means whatsoever without the worker’s consent.”
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