DOJ chief: Law bans ‘no vaccine, no work’ policy
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 requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Guevarra said he would discuss the matter with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was strongly criticized 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 “no vaccine, no work” and “no vaccine, no pay” policies.
Bello, a lawyer and a former justice secretary himself, has since backpedaled 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 member of the IATF, also apologized for the mix-up, which could have been discussed by the Cabinet members had the body’s meeting on Thursday not been canceled.
“I’m sorry for any resulting confusion,” he said.
Guevarra said the IATF guidelines that Bello had cited, which placed Metro Manila on 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.