Senators support hybrid work setup, ask govt to stop ‘choking’ WFH firms

REMOTE work should be implemented at every opportunity possible, both to boost the economy, ease congestion on the streets, and improve labor productivity and families’ well-being, according to Sen. Grace Poe.

Taking the floor in Tuesday’s plenary session, Poe delivered a privileged speech asking the entire Marcos government to “think outside the cubicle and allow modern technologies for hybrid work arrangements in the country to thrive in promoting inclusive economic growth.”

Poe drew strong support from two senators, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva and Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada.

Poe pointed out that “hybrid work is not a radical, futuristic idea whose time is yet to come. It is an old friend knocking on our door.”

Presiding as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, Poe has been stressing, “As it did in the past, remote work has proven its versatility and should not be downplayed or undermined.”

She lamented how “the tug of war between working in the office and working remotely is playing out before our eyes,” citing the impasse between the Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza)-registered firms on terminating work-from-home (WFH) arrangements by September 2022.

“We have seen firsthand how excessive meddling by bureaucrats can choke out innovation,” the lawmaker lamented, observing that “the FIRB’s heavy-handed policies appear to be headed in the same direction—a warning earlier aired by economists worried that the obsession with policy may be choking a sector that is a key pillar of growth, or the information technology and business process outsourcing [IT-BPO].”

The FIRB and the past leadership of the Department of Finance had argued that their insistence on limiting the WFH entitlements of the IT-BPO arose from a need to comply with the CREATE law, and compelled outsourcing firms to have workers report onsite to the export processing zones where they are registered, or lose all their fiscal incentives.

Several huge firms opted to lose their perks, saying it was more important to keep their workers, in whom they had also invested so much, and who keep their business successful.

In her speech, Poe rued, “This is a clear example where government is the problem, not the solution.”

Study: WFH win-win for all

AT the same time, she pointed to a study published in the Philippine Review of Economics last year, recording that up to one-third of jobs in the country’s capital have telework potential, while 22 million workers’ jobs are partially teleworkable.

Poe added: “Working from home paid dividends in terms of physical, emotional and mental health: 74.2 percent reported improved physical fitness; 35.7 percent had a more relaxed working environment; and 27.8 percent had more time to spend on personal relationships,” citing the CISCO global hybrid work 2022 study.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 125, Poe paved the way for the Senate to mount an inquiry into the implementation of the Telecommuting Act or Republic Act (RA) 11165 in order to propose amendments to the measure, “with the end goal of promoting work-from-home and hybrid work arrangements.”

Her resolution noted, “RA 11165 recognizes technological developments that opened new and alternative avenues for employees to carry out their work, such as telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements.”

Invoking Section 8 of the law directing the Department of Labor and Employment to establish and maintain a telecommuting pilot program and submit findings to Congress, Poe added, “We should push back on agencies who refuse to think ‘outside the cubicle.’ Let’s work together to turn work into something that we do, not something we only need to go to.”

For his part, Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada thanked Poe for bringing up the issue of hybrid works in her speech. Estrada, a staunch advocate of labor, employment and human resources, noted that the WFH arrangement saved the industry and the country at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic where human intervention and human interaction activities were restricted for safety and security concerns.

The senator said he favors adopting a hybrid setup for types of work that can be accomplished remotely and virtually, adding that such work setup will open doors for more and better employment opportunities especially for women, senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

“I also agree with all the advantages cited by Sen. Grace Poe and those mentioned by fellow advocates. We have to move with the demands of time and trend and we have to adapt accordingly,” Estrada said.

Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, main author of the telecommuting act, also welcomed Poe’s initiative and declared full support for it.