DOLE notes rise in reported labor disputes amid loosening of curbs

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has reported an uptick in the number of labor disputes following the easing of quarantine restrictions this year.

A  labor  group, meanwhile, said the cases could further rise in the coming months as rising fuel prices and other economic issues, which may compel companies to implement cost-cutting measures to the detriment of their workers, hit the country.

In its preliminary Alternative Dispute Resolution report, DOLE’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) recorded a slight increase in the number of actual labor strikes this year.

From January to May, it registered four actual strikes from just one incident in the same period last year. Three of the said cases this year were due to unfair labor practice, while one was caused by a collective bargaining negotiations deadlock.

The work stoppages this year in the National Capital Region (NCR), as well as in Regions 4A and 12 were already settled, while the case in Region 10 was certified for compulsory arbitration.

The NCMB also reported that the number of notices of strike/lockout (NS/L), a requirement before a labor union could legitimately hold a work stoppage, also rose to 85 during the first five months of the year compared to 78 in the same period in 2021.

Among the current NS/L cases, 58 percent or 49 cases were already settled, which awarded 2,554 workers with P548.37 million worth of financial benefits.

While there was an increase in incidents of strike and NS/L, NCMB noted preventive mediation (PM) cases from January to May slightly dropped to 192, compared to the 222 cases last year.

Of the preventive mediation cases this year, 146 or 76 percent were already settled resulting in the awarding of over P126.88 million worth of monetary benefits to 1,740 workers.

Federation of Free Workers (FFW) Vice President Julius Cainglet expects the number of labor disputes to further rise as the country is now faced with economic-related issues.

“As the costs of fuel prices rise, we will find a lot of companies implementing measures to save on production costs by sacrificing workers [like] giving them less wages and benefits,” Cainglet said

He noted this might likely translate to more labor disputes in the long run.

Furthermore, the labor leader said that with the easing of movement restrictions, more workers will be able to file their complaints personally with the NCMB, particularly on DOLE policies, which, he said, gave “employers too much elbow room to bend the law.”

Among such DOLE policies, Cainglet said, which were opposed by labor groups were the extension of the allowed suspension of employment of a worker from six months to one year in case of war, pandemic and similar emergencies as well as requiring workers to be fully vaccinated to perform on-site duty.

Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, NCMB relied on virtual conferences for its conciliation-mediation activities to comply with government restrictions for mass gatherings.

Cainglet, however, noted the virtual conferences held by NCMB were inefficient in resolving pending cases.

“There were a number of cases lodged with the online mechanism that were not acted upon,” Cainglet said. -30-