DOLE allows workers on 'floating status' for a year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 28) — The Department of Labor and Employment has extended from six months to a year the allowable period that employers can place their staff on "floating status" during the health crisis.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III released a department order allowing the extension of the "floating status" of workers in times of emergencies. This means that their employment status would be put on hold or suspended.

Department Order No. 215-2020 dated Oct. 23 allowed the extension of the suspension of employment "in case of declaration of war, pandemic, or similar national emergencies."

DOLE Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez explained on Wednesday that when employers or companies suspend operations, they are allowed to place their workers on floating status. These employees are still considered employees but will not be given their salaries for the period that they are not actually doing any work or are "floating." When the allowable period is up, the employee can either be retrenched with separation pay or asked to return to work.

Benavidez said the department issued the order as the economy is slowly reopening and businesses are resuming operations.

"Ayaw po namin talagang makita 'yung ating mga manggagawa na tanggalin na lang basta sa trabaho dahil lang naglapse na or nag-expire 'yung tinatawag nating six months floating status," he said in a media forum.

[Translation: We did not want to see our workers losing their jobs just because the six-month floating status has lapsed or expired.]

According to the Bureau of Local Employment, at least 2.1 million workers have been "temporarily laid off" or were asked not to report to work temporarily, due to challenges in operating a business during the lockdown.

"Gusto namin bigyan ng espasyo doon sa mga empleyado at saka sa kanilang mga employer o kumpanya na sila ay mag-usap na kung maaaring mag-extend pa 'yung kanilang floating status nang sa ganoon ay mag-resume o maka-resume ng negosyo 'yung kanilang mga employer," Benavidez added.

[Translation: We want to give the opportunity for the employee and employer to discuss if they can extend the floating status to allow the businesses to resume.]

But labor rights organizations such as the Partido Manggagawa slammed the order and plan to challenge it before the Supreme Court.

"Extension of the floating status of workers beyond the six months maximum through a DO is illegal as it is tantamount to executive legislation," said Rene Magtubo, Partido Manggagawa's national chair, in a statement. "The water cannot rise above its source.”

Benavidez responded saying the order only amended the implementing rules and regulations of the Labor Code which does not have provisions on floating status.

"Wala po sa Labor Code of the Philippines 'yung mga rules and regulations with respect to floating status," he said. "Ito po ay sa pamamagitan lamang ng mga desisyon na ibinaba ng Korte Suprema."

[Translation: There are no rules and regulations in the Labor Code of the Philippines with respect to floating status. These rules and regulations were laid out through decisions made by the Supreme Court.]

Benavidez clarified that employers and affected employees must agree on the arrangement before anyone can be placed on extended floating status. The company should also inform DOLE of the agreed work set-up.

The official added that those forced by the company to extend their floating status can complain to the labor department.