Pay your workers on time

A Manila congressman filed a bill that would penalize employers who repeatedly fail to pay their employees on time.

In a statement, the congressman said that four out of 10 employers owe their workers back pay, and that this onerous rate is second only to Malaysia.

When employees do not receive their salaries on time, they incur debt just to meet their daily needs.

The bill fines payroll masters of companies when they do not disburse salaries even as funds have been made available, or when they do not inform their employers that there are no funds with which to pay the workers.

Employers will be liable, as well, for failure to pay wages without any justifiable reason—they will be slapped a fine of P500,000 on first offense, P1 million on second offense, and P3 million for third offense.

Business operations will be suspended in the first two instances and perpetually closed on the third.

The bill, for its good intentions, faces a round of challenges. It is not as if we have a dearth of laws and recourse for aggrieved workers.

The Labor Code has provisions that tell us in what manner and when employers should pay their workers. The Labor Department receives complaints about such deadbeat businessmen.

And yet, the practice continues, not just in terms of withheld wages but in other benefits such as social security and health insurance.

As a result, aside from incurring debt for daily sustenance—the expenses do not stop, after all, even when their powerful bosses turn a deaf ear to their complaints—the workers’ ability to secure loans, consult a doctor in times of emergency and look forward to a modest but steady pension in old age is compromised through no fault of their own.

In theory, laws and regulations protect employees from the indifference and selfishness of their bosses. In reality, the status quo itself prevents these workers from turning to the law to assert their rights.

Take note – they do not ask for much, just what is due them after putting in the hours, the hard work, the commitment, and yes the loyalty. Imagine however the inconvenience one has to endure in filing a complaint, attending hearings, waiting for decisions, spending money for all these when they could be at their workplaces earning their keep. Except that, they are not being paid in the first place.

We also forget how these employers refuse to acknowledge that their omission means the difference between having food on the table or eating well, being able to send children to school or leaving them on the street, or having the money to buy medicine or withering away in sickness.

Alas, conscience cannot be legislated.

This proposal would be good but only if it is implemented according to spirit—the same spirit that dictates fairness and honesty and genuine compassion. Otherwise, it will just be another cosmetic solution to an age-old problem. Workers cannot afford to risk losing the jobs they currently have because staying appears safer and less of a hassle. Even when they do not get paid on time.

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