By Macon Araneta

Before giving any preferential treatment to foreigners, the Vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs and Sen. Win Gatchalian called on the government to carefully consider hiring unemployed Filipinos, who were mostly displaced by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gatchalian is making the call amid plans of the national government to allow the entry of more foreign workers particularly those employed through the flagship projects in the country. 

There were pronouncements from Malacañang that foreign embassies made the request on easing the country’s travel restrictions for foreign workers.

Gatchalian pointed out that there are 7.3 million talented and hardworking Filipinos who are now unemployed and hoping to find jobs, citing the April 2020 Labor Force Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

The PSA report also shows that the underemployment rate, which measures the number of workers with irregular jobs, also increased by 18.9 percent to 6.4 million in April 2020 from 5.6 million in April 2019.

According to Gatchalian, the government needs to prioritize bringing unemployed Filipinos back to the labor market in order to help support and rejuvenate the country’s public consumption, which can lead to higher growth rate.

Gatchalian also urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Finance (DOF) to take primary responsibility in monitoring compliance by foreign bidders or contract awardees with Philippine laws, rules and regulations, especially those in the interest and for the protection of Filipino workers.

This is to ensure that foreign bidders and contract awardees of Philippine infrastructure projects must hire local workers for manual and non-technical jobs, according to the senator.

While the threat of COVID-19 remains, alternative working arrangements are becoming a new normal in offices.

Sen. Imee Marcos proposed to amend Republic Act No. 11165 or the “Telecommuting Act,” which defines telecommuting as a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform his tasks from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.

Marcos filed Senate Bill No. 1448 to make working from home a mandatory option offered to employees whose physical presence in the workplace is not necessary for the completion of his/her job and who have been with the company for at least one year.

“Should the physical presence of the employee be necessary for a particular task, the employer may require his/her attendance in the workplace, within office hours and during weekdays but not more than twice a week,” her amendment stated.

The Marcos bill also states that a contract of employment should clearly indicate the eligibility of a given position for telecommuting.

“Clearly, a ‘new normal’ of social distancing, new hygiene standards and limited physical contact shall prevail into the future,” Marcos said, adding that these have forced various sectors to make major modifications in their policy to ensure compliance with social distancing measures.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Telecommuting Act on December 20, 2018, after Sen. Joel Villanueva steered its passage during the previous Congress.