Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development to look into the reported cases of regular employees in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies who are being placed on floating status amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 462, De Lima underscored the need to review existing labor laws, policies and practices, which may require some legislative reforms to make them more responsive to the needs of workers amid the economic downturn brought about by the global health crisis.
“The designation of floating status to employees is a labor practice where employers capitalize on legal loopholes in order to protect assets and capital investments and clear them from any financial obligations they may have to their employees for extended periods of time,” she said.
“The fairness of existing labor laws and policies, such as the designation of floating status employees, should be re-examined, particularly during extraordinary times of crisis such as the one brought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.
Last May, it was reported that regular employees of some BPOs who came into contact with a COVID-19 patient were being placed on “floating status”, thereby prompting them to undergo a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine period – all without pay despite being regular employees.
A month after, some regular employees of BPO companies were reportedly being put on “floating status” for up to 90 days as offshore accounts pulled out their Philippine operations due to the global economic downturn.
According to labor lawyer Arnold de Vera, there is nothing formally written about floating status of employees in the country’s labor laws but the Supreme Court had upheld its validity in prior cases, provided that its implementation is fair and reasonable.
While she acknowledged that designating employees to floating status is completely legal, De Lima stressed that problems arise when workers are left with no source of income for months at a time.
“Despite being regular employees, workers are left with no choice but to accept the status quo rather than face permanent retrenchment should they seek other employment opportunities elsewhere,” she said.
De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, maintained that it is only fair that both the government and BPO companies look after the welfare of BPO workers and support them during this pandemic.
“More equitable labor arrangements should be institutionalized in order to balance the equation and provide protection to not just capital investments but, more importantly, the labor power supplied by workers themselves which serve as the key foundation of our economy,” she said.
Based on government data, the Philippine unemployment rate ballooned to 17.7 percent, which roughly translates to 7.3 million individuals, as of April 2020. Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III noted that this figure could even rise further by 4 million by the end of the year. (30)