House Bill 4502 authored by Rep. Bonito Singson seeks to amend Article 296 of the Labor Code by extending the period of probation from six months to two years.
Expectedly, it was met with opposition by labor leaders but, surprisingly, by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) as well.
Their objection could reveal their common misperception that all employers are irresponsible and unscrupulous who cannot be trusted to look after the welfare of their employees.
However, no employer will unnecessarily prolong the probation period simply because it is permitted, but more so to prevent losing good probationers to competitors.
The Manual of Regular Private Schools allows a three-year probationary period for teachers, while the Labor Code prescribes only six months for industry workers. Yet, both are human workers driven by the same determination to excel in their work. Perhaps, the underlying reason for the difference in probation period is the belief that teaching is a more noble profession. But Catholic principles uphold the dignity of all honest labor. Even the old proverb says, “What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander.”
Our schools churn out graduates who are world class leaders, scientists, innovators and educators to mention a few, which prove that longer probationary period for teachers has greatly contributed in honing their teaching skills to produce such illustrious graduates.
Extending probation period to two years — albeit still shorter than the teachers’ three — for industries is expected to yield the same pleasing result in higher workers’ competence and better quality of their production output.
Our country’s workforce is grossly undertrained. This is because out of 100 pupils that go through primary education, only 58 go to higher education and only eight eventually finish college and the rest take up Technical Vocational Education and Training or TVET courses. This results in the perennial problem of job skills mismatch.
According to latest labor survey, almost half of our workforce are employed in the informal economy and they are outside the ambit of government-sponsored training centers. These workers get intensive technical training from private enterprises who cannot afford to adopt the formal two-year training program under the apprenticeship law, and they try to make use of the six-month probation period for on-the-job training.
However, experience shows that six months is unsatisfactorily inadequate to fully train workers. Thus, HB 4502 extending the probation period to two years will provide small and medium-size enterprises the flexibility to nurture the upskilling of probationers in full compliance with the labor law.
Presently, when trainees under probation fail to learn the craft within six months, employers are forced to terminate them before the end of the probation period for two reasons: first, securing DoLE approval to extend the period of probation — which the code allows — may face bureaucratic red tape, and second, dismissing a probationer turned regular employee is more difficult than divorcing a spouse.
Our tripartite partners need to trust micro, small and medium enterprises employers to responsibly carry out a longer probationary period, if necessary, without the limiting period of six months and its punitive consequences. It will ensure technically competent workers and fulfill workers aspirations for security of tenure.
Perhaps, the misplaced anxiety of labor leaders may not be about the threats of abuse by unprincipled employers, but the difficulty of recruiting probationers to be dues-paying union members even as the Labor Code and HB 4502 give such workers the same rights as regular employees.
HB 4502 is a small step that has a “liberating effect” on both employers and workers toward achieving production efficiency and providing job security. It will augment governments TVET program and companies should be encouraged instead of being threatened with the punitive clauses of the six-month probation period.
HB 4502 will face a long-drawn debate before it becomes law, but we hope Congressman Singson will have the fortitude to hurdle the ideological and misguided resistance of our social partners.