The January 2020 eruption of Taal volcano shook Southern Luzon, and the resulting ashfall reached as far as the National Capital Region. Classes were quickly cancelled in most schools in affected areas. In Metro Manila, work was suspended for the House of Representatives and some private offices. At the same time, in Santa Rosa, Laguna, a mere 20 kilometers from the volcano, several BPO firms informed their employees that it would be business as usual. These announcements came despite the 2.5 inches of ash and rock fragments that covered the city at the time.
(featured image source)
When do employers have to suspend work?
It is written in our laws that employers must provide a “safe and healthful workplace” to their employees, free of hazards, to the very best of their ability, and the government must ensure that all employers comply. According to Republic Act No. 11058, An Act Strengthening Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Standards and Providing Penalties for Violations Thereof:
The State shall protect every worker against injury, sickness, and death through safe and healthful working conditions thereby assuring the conservation of valuable manpower resources and the prevention of loss or damage to lives and properties consistent with national development goals, and with the State’s commitment to the total development of every worker as a complete human being. (emphasis mine)
Although most of this act covers workplace safety in the context of preventing accidents and handling them appropriately when they do occur, guaranteeing workplace safety is also about discerning when it is unsafe for workers to leave their homes and go to work in the first place. After all, having to brave a storm or earthquake tremors on your way to a safe work site is still a health and safety risk.
What if they don’t?
All workers, regardless of their company, the position they hold, and how long they have been employed, have the right to refuse to go to work if it may cause them illness, injury or death. If a threat is present in the workplace itself and their employer has not taken steps to eliminate the threat, workers can invoke the same right.
Should you need to do this, your employer is not allowed to retaliate in a way that will affect your employment and income. This is stated in RA 11058 under section 28, “Prohibited Acts”:
Making retaliatory measures such as termination of employment, refusal to pay, reducing wages and benefits or in any manner discriminates against any worker who has given information relative to the inspection being conducted.
What should I do?
The Department of Labor and Employment encourages workers to report employers who violate the RA 11058 and all laws that aim to protect employees. They can be reached via their 24/7 hotline at 1349. They can also be reached via Facebook or personally at their central office:
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Building
Muralla Wing cor. General Luna St.
Intramuros, Manila, 1002, Philippines
If it’s not convenient for you to visit their central office, you can visit their official website, click “DOLE Offices” and find the branch nearest to you. The list includes Philippines Overseas Labor Offices for those working abroad.
For more information on workplace safety, see the full text of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards.