LOANS that will help small enterprises make payroll for 13th month salaries will now be available only to micro enterprises due to lack of funds, according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

In a briefing Monday, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the eligibility cutoff is “those with a maximum of 10 workers” who are still struggling financially due to the pandemic in order to qualify for soft loans from the Small Business Corp. (SB Corp.), an arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The initial plan of the DTI, DoLE, Finance Department, and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines was to provide soft loans to micro and small enterprises, but Mr. Bello said SB Corp. can only cater to micro businesses due to its budget of P200 million.

He added that DoLE had initially requested a P60-billion budget for a wage subsidy program, which was not granted due to insufficient funds.

The wage subsidy would have covered 60% of employee salaries to allow employers to keep them at work.

Mr. Bello reiterated that it is illegal for employers to withhold the salaries of unvaccinated employees.

According to Mr. Bello, the “no vaccine, no pay” policy allegedly being practiced by some employers “has no legal basis and is against the Labor Code.”

Article 116 of the Labor Code bars employers from withholding wages “by force, stealth, intimidation, threat, or by any other means whatsoever without the worker’s consent.”

“We are in a democratic country where there is freedom of choice. One cannot force someone to be vaccinated unless there is a law,” Mr. Bello added.

Mr. Bello said the department has as yet not received official complaints against any employer enforcing such a policy.

He urged workers whose salaries were withheld for non-vaccination to “step forward” and identify the employers in order to initiate an investigation. He said whistleblowers will remain anonymous.

Any such practice will trigger a DoLE compliance order against the employer, he said. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago