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On the Batas Kasambahay

“This wage increase for NCR, which is the lead region in the country, could precipitate similar adjustments in all regions and will hit hard the estimated two million retirees and 9.4 million senior citizens.

Ed Lacson

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Employers fully support the spirit of Republic Act 10361 or the Batas Kasambahay (BK), which imposes better working conditions for the marginalized sector of our society. It is an emancipation from centuries of bondage as “alipin,” “muchacha,” “alila,” and other derogatory labeling by pre-colonial native rulers, colonizers and household employers of the recent past.

It took 16 years for BK to be enacted in 2013 that will protect domestic helpers such as general househelp, yaya, cook, gardener and laundry person who are under an employment relationship with the homeowner. Like industrial and office workers, they are covered by statutory benefits from Social Security System (SSS), PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG with premium payments fully shouldered by the employer if their salary does not exceed P5,000 per month.

Almost seven years after, there are still unresolved issues in the implementation of this law as enrollment forms of the three social agencies are not unified to simplify registration, making it cumbersome for employers to comply. The law is supposed to be prospective, but the previous SSS Law of 1993 gets in the way as it still requires kasambahay registrants to pay retroactive dues from the first day of employment, which was too hefty for many employers. For some, the back charges with penalties range from P100,000 to P500,000. Because of this, registration in SSS as of October 2019 stood at 17,430 or less than one percent of two million kasambahay nationwide.

The BK initially set minimum wage by region, with National Capital Region at P2,500 per month, but authorized the regional wage boards to adjust it periodically (the period not specified). In 2017, NCR minimum wage was raised to P3,500 per month or a 40 percent increase.

Presently, some administrative processes like the filing of employment contract with barangay office, preparation of pay slips, employment record, resignation letter, proof of premium payment to the three state agencies, keeping files for three years, periodic inspection by DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment) agents continue to cause considerable inconvenience and anxiety to housewives whose priority is to attend to their homemaking duties. Adding to this difficulty are numerous “ghosting” cases of kasambahays who just leave without notice after they are hired and duly registered with concerned authorities. Some common reasons are: transfer to another employer, get married with Facebook suitors, quarrel with fellow kasambahay, or getting reprimanded by the employer. The unlucky employer has to repeat the registration process and paperwork all over again.

Perhaps our lawmakers can amend the law to simplify the administrative processes to ease the burden on employers, while maintaining effective monitoring and control for abuses under this special employment scheme.

In the news lately is the approval by the wage board to raise the kasambahay monthly minimum wage for NCR from P3,500 to P5,000, a 43 percent increase. But DoLE is suggesting that it should be P6,000 or a 71 percent upward adjustment. The survey process to justify the need to raise the minimum wage is suspiciously opaque. The hefty increase will painfully impact on medium earners who are forced to hire kasambahays to allow themselves to leave their houses to earn a living for their families. A number of minimum wage earners are similarly situated and raising kasambahay salary to P6,000 will cut into their monthly pay by 43 percent. This wage increase for NCR, which is the lead region in the country, could precipitate similar adjustments in all regions and will hit hard the estimated two million retirees and 9.4 million senior citizens. For employers in gated villages and high-income group, the mandated wage increase may have no immediate harmful effect as their kasambahays enjoy pay and perks way beyond the legal minimum.

The indeterminate period for wage adjustment gives absolute authority to the wage board to issue wage increase orders. Some might, motu propio, issue such orders needlessly and using an unclear survey method may lead to a wage distortion that is unaffordable, capricious and injurious, which would hurt the sectors that also need social protection. Forcing charity and compassion through the power of legislation can inflict injustice against the hidden poor, retired, sick and aging citizens.

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