It is business as usual for Regional Conciliation and Mediation Branch VIII, COVID-19, notwithstanding. With requests for the Branch’s assistance continuously filed, the Branch has to respond and rise to the challenge despite restrictions in work operations.
Of the 112 workplace claims received during the pandemic, 38 were SENA requests for assistance, 23 were recorded as technical assistance, and 56 approached the office or sent messages on Facebook to seek guidance for prudent future action.
“Workers started coming to the office last July 2020, when the city was placed under Modified General Community Quarantine status and travel restrictions eased,” said Dir. Rogen Cumba. “This exponential increase in requests for Branch intervention is unprecedented, especially in a span of just 3 months,” he shared, as normally, the Branch receives only an average of 40 SEnA requests for assistance (RFA) a year.
Earlier, the filing of SENA RFAs was suspended following an order by the DOLE and the NCMB Central Office.
“Despite this, the Central Office encouraged us to entertain clients who will approach the Branch for help under the technical assistance framework,” said LEO III Papiniano O. Macayan III. “However, all conferences were conducted online through our Facebook Messenger account upon agreement of the parties,” Macayan added.
The suspension of the filing of SENA RFAs was lifted on 17 August 2020 by virtue of DOLE Department Order 214 and NCMB Advisory No. 1, Series of 2020.
In pursuant to the advisory, conciliation conferences, as far as practicable, shall still be conducted online, but should the availability of facility for online conference be a problem for either the worker or management, the Branch will invite either party to use the facility of the office, subject to the prescribed minimum health standards and protocols.
“Face to face conferences shall only be resorted to when either or both parties refuse video/online or teleconferencing,” Macayan added.
As many businesses have been forced to downsize their staff during the pandemic, issues raised by workers seeking technical assistance and in SEnA RFAs are mostly about temporary lay-offs and ‘floating status’ which have exceeded the period provided by law, and termination of employment.
“We will always be ready to help our workers and management who come to us for assistance. Work restrictions will not get in our way as we stay committed to our work in providing assistance to our clients especially at these trying times,” Director Cumba said.
Pamela R. Babalcon