The Philippine Employers and the Quest for Equality at Work

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Byline: Miguel B. Varela Chairman, ECOP

FIRST of all I like to express our most sincere congratulations to the President on his election. I have no doubt that his many years of experience will help him chair and successfully conclude this conference.

Philippine employers would also like to commend the Director General on his Global Report, Time for Equality at Work, a very comprehensive study on the diverse and emerging forms of discrimination in the workplace. We fully subscribe to the Reports philosophical and moral premises. Indeed, social justice and individual freedom remain mere pronouncements unless there is complete equality in the workplace.

For all the gains we have made in our collective efforts to improve the level and scope of equality at work, a new challenge emerges. As the Report points out, the changes in the structure and dynamics of labor markets lead to more intractable and less visible forms of work inequality such as those based on age, disability, perceived or actual HIV/AIDS, social status, religion and nationality.

We note with interest the finding of the Report that even as new forms of discrimination based on different characteristics other than sex emerge, women are by far still the largest group facing discrimination at work.

And it comes as a surprise to learn from the Report that even the pay gap between male and female workers continues to exist in the developed and industrialized economies of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

As the Report has noted, discrimination at work will not vanish by itself; neither will the market, on its own, take care of its elimination.

How does a developing but open economy like the Philippines with a labor market completely different from that of a developed or highly industrialized economy respond to discrimination in terms of employment, occupation and remuneration?

The Philippines has developed through the years a comprehensive regulatory framework that seeks to prohibit and eliminate discrimination at the workplace particularly against women, the disabled and lately against persons with HIV/AIDS. Inasmuch as the Philippine labor force is essentially composed of its own citizens, racism is a nonissue. Likewise, discrimination on the basis of religion hardly exists, and it becomes only a consideration if religion is a bona-fide qualification for employment.

The Philippine Constitution directs the State to protect working women by providing safe and healthful working conditions, taking into account their maternal functions, and such facilities and opportunities that will enhance their welfare and enable them to realize their full potential in the service of the nation.

The Philippine Labor Code penalizes any employer who discriminates against any woman employe with respect to terms and conditions of employment solely on account of her sex.

But in spite of the protective legal framework the participation of women in employment is 63 percent less than that of their male counterparts. Discrimination against the disabled is addressed by the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons. This law expressly provide that no disabled person shall be denied access to opportunities for suitable employment and that a qualified disabled employe shall be subject to the same terms and conditions of employment and the same compensation, privileges, benefits, fringe benefits, incentives or allowances as a qualified able bodied person. …