Many workers anticipated to receive their 13th month pay last December 2020 in order to bounce back this new year. Many also expected that they could use this to pay the debts they incurred after losing their jobs during the lockdown period. New year has already passed and many have not received the said pay.
The 13th month pay is a monetary benefit that employers are obliged to give their employees not later than December 24 of every year, All workers, including contractuals, who rendered at least a month of service to their employers are entitled to this benefit. This is computed based on their basic monthly pay and the number of months they worked for the entire year.
In normal times, Filipino workers often spend this during Christmas or to pay for other household expenses, or set this aside as emergency savings. This pandemic, at a time when most families are in dire need, many workers were denied this benefit. Approximately 2 million workers did not receive their 13th month pay in 2020.
These individuals include Kim, a worker at a large grocery in Manila. “I have been working as a merchandiser for five years now, but I’m only nominally regular. For five years, I have not been given a 13th month pay and other benefits,” she said. This past non-working holidays, Kim was obliged by her employer to work without being given a special compensation. This is a violation of reactionary labor laws which states that workers should be payed 200% of their regular pay during holidays.
Lucy, a security guard in a company based in Laguna, also did not receive her 13th month pay. “Our agency already gave my workmates their 13th month pay, but I have not received mine. I am currently on maternity leave because I just gave birth during the last week of October,” she said. After filing a complaint, the management of the security advised her that she has to file a “temporary resignation letter” to get the said benefit. She refused to do so after being warned by her workmates that this will only be used to terminate her employment.
Instead of being given a 13 month pay, Niko and his fellow construction workers in Pampanga were charged with debt interest payments by their employer last month. He explained how his employer used their cash advance during the lockdown period was used to bury them in debt and deny them this benefit. “Our wages are now in the negative because the cash advance was treated as a loan with interest. Our employer doesn’t care and has refused to give us any consideration.”
Like in Niko’s case, the ₱3,000-cash advance which Jack received last March was deducted from his 13th month pay by his employer. He was planning to use the said money to buy maintenance medicines for his hypertension, but he has only received ₱400. “Our supervisor told me that a large amount was also deducted from my 13th month pay because it was already in September when I was ordered to report back to work.”
These cases prove that Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello’s declaration that workers must be given their 13th month pay is toothless. In reality, he still has no plans to inspect workplaces to ensure the compliance of employers to the said law. Businesses, especially hard-up small and medium enterprises, were not given any subsidy to ensure that they will be able to provide their employees with the said benefit.
The absence of 13th month pay for many workers contributes to the continuing decrease in the value of wages amid the pandemic. Globally, the International Labor Organization estimated that workers’ wages has already decreased by 11% or equivalent to $3.5 billion (₱168 trillion) during the first three quarters of 2020.