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Amicus Curiae

Protection of women employees

Paulo N. Rabanal

September 28, 2017

A woman uses her computer next to a hotel window in Makati in this photo taken on March 13,
2012. -- BW FILE PHOTO
 
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap (GGG) Report conducted in
2016, the Philippines is the most gender-equal country in the Asia-Pacific region having closed
nearly 79% of its gender gap. The GGG Index ranks 144 countries on the gap between women
and men based on indicators such as economic leadership, work force participation, education,
political leadership, and health-related factors.
 
This may be attributed to the principle embodied in the 1987 Constitution “(recognizing) the role
of women in nation building and (ensuring) the fundamental equality before the law of women
and men.” Pursuant to this, there have been much effort to ensure that equal opportunities are
given to men and women employees. This is evident in labor and social legislation where a
number of laws and government issuances afford women not only equal opportunities with men,
but also more protection and safeguards.
 
For example, under the Labor Code, specifically under “Working Conditions for Special Groups
of Employees,” a separate chapter discusses the special circumstances to be considered in the
employment of women. Article 130 of the Labor Code requires that certain facilities are required
to be provided for women to ensure their safety and health. Articles 133 to 136 provide
safeguards for women employees by, among others, declaring acts of discrimination against
women and certain prohibited acts, as unlawful.
 
Likewise under Article 158 of the Labor Code, measures shall be taken to ensure the well-being
of women workers who are pregnant and are allowed to engage in night work. Additionally,
employers must provide women workers an alternative to night work before and after childbirth
for a period of at least sixteen weeks (16) weeks. To protect the security of tenure of women
workers contemplated in this article, the law provides that they cannot be dismissed except for
just and authorized causes that are not related to pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare
responsibilities.
 
Furthermore, the law grants women a maternity leave. Although men employees are likewise
granted a paternity leave, there are substantial differences between the two benefits. Maternity
leave is available to women employees regardless of civil status, while the paternity leave is only
available to men employees who are married. The more notable difference is the leave period, as
the maternity leave may be for a maximum period of 60 or 78 days, while the paternity leave is
only up to 7 days maximum. On top of this, the Senate has recently approved Senate Bill 1305 or
the “Expanded Maternity Leave Law of 2017” which seeks to extend the grant of maternity leave
to 120 days. In addition, women employees are granted special leaves under Republic Act No.
9262 or the “Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004” and under
Republic Act No. 9710 or “The Magna Carta of Women.”
 
On Aug. 25, the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Silvestre Bello
III issued Department Order 178-17 (DO 178) which aims to address the health concerns
encountered by employees whose jobs require continuous standing or frequent walking. Under
DO 178, companies are banned from mandating their women employees to wear shoes with
more than 1 inch high heels, making the Philippines the first country in Asia where the
mandatory wearing of high heeled shoes is banned.
 
Finally, there are a number of pending bills in the Congress which aim to strengthen the curb on
discrimination against women in the workplace by seeking to expand the prohibited acts of
discrimination.
 
While the strides towards gender balance are commendable, it is important to consider, however,
the other side of the scale, i.e. the employers, so as not to grant protection to women employees
to the extent of giving overbalanced or preferential treatment. The requirements provided by the
law may be too burdensome for the employers that they may think twice before hiring women
employers.
 
In pushing for more benefits and protection favoring women workers, a possible backlash may
occur and diminish the hiring of women employees, effectively running counter to the intention
of the law. Per se, there is nothing wrong with coming up with more legislations favorable to
women, but it is also imperative that a careful contemplation on the implications of such must
first be done.