By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said employers cannot defer or delay the release of the 13th-month pay of their employees as mandated by the law at a news conference in Malacañang last October 12.

“The law has not been amended. That is the law. That is a mandatory provision of the Labor Code,” Roque said.

“Pabayaan po nating pag-aralan ng DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment). Pero sa aking tingin, hanggang magkaroon ng bagong batas ay baka hindi po iyan pupuwedeng ma-defer,” Roque said.

Under the law, kelangan bayaran ang 13th-month pay.  Ang exemption diyan is kapag ang company is in distress,”Bello said.

Under Presidential Decree 851, employers are mandated to release the 13th-month pay which is equivalent to 1/12 of an employee’s basic annual salary on or before December 24 “regardless of the nature of the workers’ employment.”

In a report by GMA News, Sec. Silvestre Bello said DOLE will have a dialogue this week with Labor and employer groups and the Department of Trade and Industry “to iron out details on what constitutes a company in distress to be entitled for an exemption.”

“Whether they are in distress or not ay magpapalabas kami ng advisory tungkol diyan. Yan ang pag-uusapan namin, gawan natin ng paraan para maipaliwanag natin kung sino yung mga kumpanya na considered to be in distress,” Bello said without mentioning a specific timeline.

13th-month pay accrued, labor groups insist 

In another report by GMA News, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) insisted employees’ 13th-month pay should be given out this year as mandated by the law “even as some firms could not afford to pay the benefit.”

“Itinuturing natin na accrued na o earned na ng mga manggagawa since January 1, this year up to this time,” Associated Labor Unions-TUCP spokesperson Allan Tanjusay said in a report by 24 Oras Weekend.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) said micro firms or those with total assets worth less than ₱50,000 could not afford the mandated 13th-month pay of their employees due to the economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“‘Yung mga micro, ‘di kaya talaga eh. Maraming mawawalan ng trabaho kapag piniga natin nang piniga ‘yung mga micro na ‘yan at hindi natin tinulungan,” ECOP chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said.

Lack of sympathy for wage earners

In another report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in a statement labelled Bello’s proposal to exempt employers from paying the mandated 13th-month pay this year as his lack of sympathy for wage earners.

“The Labor department’s proposal to allow capitalists to forego payment of 13-month salaries is completely unacceptable to millions of hard-up workers,” CPP CIO Marco Valbuena said in a statement.

“It is shameless as Duterte’s minions squabble over billions of pesos of pork barrel and big capitalists are pampered with tax exemptions. Sec. Bello, don’t you have any ounce of sympathy for the workers left in you?” he added.

The CPP noted that Presidential Decree 851’s exemption for distress companies covers commercial establishments which may allow them to defer the bonuses of their employees.

“Workers raised the alarm over this provision as the term is too broad and vague and may be used as a pretext by capitalists to accumulate more profit amid the pandemic,” Valbuena said.

“Labor groups demanded the regime to bail out micro, small, and medium enterprises in dire straits instead of denying workers their much-needed payout,” he added.