Businesses now have a legal basis to require their workers to be vaccinated, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Thursday, citing government pandemic guidelines for establishments operating under Alert Level 3.
In an interview on ANC’s Headstart, the Labor chief said under guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), establishments such as restaurants and other service providers may operate at 30 percent their indoor capacity as long as all their workers are fully inoculated.
“There is an obligation on the part of the employer that their workers must be vaccinated. They can require their employees to get the jab because now there is a legal basis,” Bello said.
Bello issued the statement when asked if employers can fire unvaccinated employees since the expansion of capacity will only be allowed in several establishments if all their workers are fully vaccinated.
The DOLE chief also said employers now can also withhold the salary of employees under the IATF resolution for Alert Level 3 even though labor groups say doing so is unconstitutional.
Before the IATF resolution, Bello said that a “no vaccine, no pay” policy was illegal.
In contrast, the Palace said a law is needed to make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for employees.
Malacañang on Thursday maintained that a law is needed to make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for employees.
“We need a law mandating vaccination among job applicants," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino.
His statement contradicted those of Bello and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
Galvez said prohibiting employment of non-vaccinated people could not be considered discriminatory.
His position was echoed by Bello, who said employers can use as legal basis for such a requirement the government task force's resolution that only allows businesses with fully vaccinated staff to operate under Alert Level 3.
Pressed if mandating vaccination for employees is feasible given that the government's vaccination program has yet to meet its target of administering 500,000 vaccine doses a day, Roque said the pace of the vaccination is expected to pick up with improved vaccine supply.
"We are speeding up our vaccination because we don't have a problem with supply anymore. There is an abundance of vaccine supply, and we are pouring in supply in Regions 3, 4A and other provinces," he said.
As of the latest count, the Philippines has administered 53,838,248 doses.
From this number, 28,961,359 people have received first doses while 24,876,889 have received complete doses.
Earlier, Galvez said companies are free to hire only vaccinated workers.
“It is the prerogative of companies to hire, train, promote and fire employees,” he said.
His statement ran counter to that of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who said business owners cannot turn down the employment of persons who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Guevarra warned that doing so will violate Section 12 of Republic Act No. 115251 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which states that “vaccine cards shall not be considered as an additional mandatory requirement for educational, employment, and other similar government transaction purposes.”
Galvez, however, insisted that the next round of the pandemic battle will involve those who are unvaccinated, who he said “will become the state’s liability and weakness in our fight against COVID-19.”
"They are the burden that we have to carry on this long battle,” he said.
“Why hire people who do not accept moral responsibility with the company? The private sector has its own rules. If the applicant does not follow rules, he or she will be automatically disqualified,” Galvez said.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on labor and employment on Thursday rejected making vaccination a mandatory condition for work.
1PACMAN Party-list Rep. Enrico Pineda said the “no jab, no job” policy requiring a person to be vaccinated so that he or she may be able to make a living was wrong.
“Although I am in favor of vaccination so that we can attain herd immunity, I don’t believe that it should be forced upon our people. Restricting access to a livelihood on the basis of one’s choice not to be vaccinated is violative of their basic right to choose, their right to free will. My body, my decision," Pineda said.
He said he believes that neither the government nor an employer should be able to dictate what individuals must do to their bodies.