Press Releases
WORKERS GO ONLINE TO SETTLE LABOR ISSUES

When the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, life in our country suddenly stood still. The Government responded with lockdowns that turned populated areas into literal ghost towns. Roads became empty as residents stayed home and watched the world go by on TV and social media.

Hit hardest were business, transport, and manufacturing firms forced to close shop and shut down operations. It was a pandemic that affected everyone's purse and eventually diminished food on the table. Employers resorted to reduced workdays while employees grappled with the thought of making ends meet.

In response, DOLE Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III has implemented programs to distribute “ayuda” in one way or another. It is not limited to cash grants under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program. The “ayuda” can go as far as making ways to accommodate labor disputes.

Issues on termination and job security flooded the hotlines of DOLE Offices. Before the pandemic, these were tackled in DOLE Offices through the Single Entry Approach (SENA), a 30-day conciliation process aimed at formulating a settlement for issues raised. With complaints increasing day by day, it was time for DOLE to settle issues without violating COVID protocols.

It was no surprise that the DOLE offices embraced digital platforms to provide online services. Face-to-face meetings shifted to online interactions. Google Meet and Zoom became the norm.

DOLE came up with an online version of the Single Entry Approach (SENA), the e-SENA. It was not a matter of going to the nearest DOLE office anymore as it was only a matter of going online and filling out a complaint. Welcome to the new normal.

The opportunity was received by DOLE Regional Director Exequiel Ronie A. Guzman as an alternative way of delivering government service. He understands that labor issues and concerns cannot be locked away for some time until the pandemic is over. Besides, there is a need to address the sense of urgency posed by these requests for assistance.

Among those workers is Jimmy* who used to be a bus conductor from Daet, Camarines Sur. He enjoyed his job as he was able to go places for free and meet a lot of people along the way. It has been this way for years and his job enabled him to provide for his family.

He suddenly found himself without a scheduled bus route when the pandemic struck. The bus that regularly took him in to collect the fare of passengers bound to Manila was grounded in the company bus terminal. The dispatcher assured them that trips would resume as soon as the bus company is granted limited routes. New guidelines would be imposed following the minimum public health standards. This is why he waited but he never stepped inside his assigned bus ever again.

 


In San Fernando Pampanga, there is *Merwin, who worked as an electrician in construction projects even before the pandemic struck. When he had been offered a project-based job in Clark under a subcontractor, he readily agreed thinking that he will not be jobless for eight months.

It was not a good project for him. From the start, payment of wages was always delayed. Not wanting to look for another job, he held on and went about his daily functions doing electrical installations. Prompted to ask his project supervisor about the delay in the payment of wages, the latter reasoned out that the employer had difficulty doing money transfers due to the scarcity of bank branches that are open and operating.

Now when his co-workers had started to resign one by one, he followed suit. He was given his last pay but not his pro-rated 13th-month pay. It is for this reason that he had to seek refuge from the government.

These cases were among the 432 online RFAs received by DOLE Laguna SENA focal, Senior LEO Herbert M. Matre, for the year 2021. The Office achieved 82% settlement rate above the 70% target accomplishment. Nonetheless, the rest were referred to the NLRC.

Online complaints range from a simple delay in payment of salary to illegal dismissal. Settlement of a case depends on the issue raised and the willingness of the parties to reach a settlement. Each SENA Desk Officer (SEADO) hearing the RFA has his own techniques in leading both parties to an agreement. Thanks to training and experience that were proven useful in resolving labor disputes.

The online platform for SENA has greatly enhanced the conciliation and mediation services of the Department of Labor and Employment and made it even more easy and convenient to the user. An employee having some issues with the management need not be physically present at the nearest DOLE Office to file a complaint. All he has to do is go online and search for e-sena to be able to file a complaint.

The process is not a long one as well. Since the platform is online, the complaint is immediately assigned to a hearing officer. Every complainant is called up and interviewed once a hearing officer had been assigned. At this stage, the issues are clarified. The assigned officer may simply call the responding party to hear the side of the management.

Simple labor issues are often resolved with one phone call or two. Otherwise, a notice will be sent to both parties. The next step would be the conduct of face-to-face hearings compliant with COVID-19 health protocols or through online platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, or even Facebook messenger.

In terms of administrative management, the online platform provides fast results when it comes to monitoring and reportorial requirements. Rather than going through folders of cases, it takes only a click of a button to search and find an update whether at the individual, provincial or regional level. During hearings, the officer can simply type and print out the minutes.

Thinking that he has waited long enough, Jimmy went to the nearest DOLE office to air his complaint against the bus company with an office in Laguna. He might have some difficulty using a computer but he was able to file his online complaint with the help of his son. It was after filing a complaint online that his anxiety over his work was eased. In less than three days, he received a call from the assigned hearing officer from DOLE Laguna. He was given a Zoom link for the online conference.

Finding a way to solve his problem, Merwin approached the nearest DOLE Office in his worksite and asked for help in claiming his delayed 13th-month pay. He was asked to fill out the SENA form and the SEADO filed the Request for Assistance online. The complaint was relayed to DOLE Laguna PO since the subcontractor has its office in Laguna. Just like Jimmy, he got a call from the office about his online complaint.

Asked if he was familiar with the Zoom platform, Merwin replied that he cannot attend via zoom. Then, he got worried how he can be able to join the hearing in Laguna while staying in Pampanga. He even commented that it seems the office is making it harder for workers to get their monetary claims. The assigned hearing officer assured that he can join the scheduled hearings through teleconference.

Merwin was then informed of the dates of the hearing. The SEADO tried calling the mobile number of the management representative. But then, there was no reply. This is why the notice of conference was immediately sent through a courier service provider.

The reality is that not all RFAs filed online have happy endings. In the case of Jimmy, the management was financially unstable and the company cannot give the separation pay being asked as a settlement for his claims. In the meantime, the management representative suggested that he can look for other jobs while they are trying to find ways to resume the bus routes.

The labor issue is only the tip of the iceberg. Settlement is sometimes hampered by other issues linked to the labor problem. It was a complicated case since Jimmy has work-related issues with the dispatcher in Bicol. In the end, the case was elevated to the National Labor Relations Commission Region V.

Merwin has a different story. In the first hearing, the representative for the subcontractor informed the hearing officer that the worker has already received his 13th-month pay. It turned out that when the company received the notice of conference, the project manager immediately reached Merwin to report at the project site to receive his 13th-month pay amounting to P10,550.00. Merwin's doubt about the difficulty of attending the hearing online was replaced by a smile and trust in the government office.

Two years into the pandemic, Provincial Director Guido R. Recio proudly states that:

“I can say we all have adjusted to the new normal in delivering frontline services both to management and worker using digital platforms in resolving labor issues that pandemic or not, we will surely find a way to settle labor disputes.”

As the nation enters into another year of the new normal, employers and employees alike can depend on the many forms of “ayuda” being extended by the Office. More than dole-outs, the office’s stakeholders can depend on the mediation and conciliation assistance which will never run out. DOLE Laguna’s team of 17 SEADOs will be there for walk-in and online clients.

*Names were replaced for the privacy of complainants

By:

Rudyboy R. Sinay
Senior LEO/LPO LIO

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2022-03-04
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