By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

IN his Labor Day message on Wednesday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte called on Congress to “consider” passing laws that will “fully protect” workers’ rights to security of tenure and self-organization.

The President’s message came amid a pending Security of Tenure bill in the Senate.

“I remain optimistic that one year since I issued Executive Order No. 51 implementing existing constitutional and statutory provisions against illegal contracting, my counterparts in Congress will consider passing much needed legislative measures that will fully protect our workers’ rights, especially to security of tenure and self-organization,” the President said in his message.

Sought for comment, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a phone message that the Security of Tenure Bill, which has been identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council as a priority, will be the Senate’s “priority” when it “resumes” session on May 20.

Also sought for comment, House Majority Leader Fredenil H. Castro of the 2nd district of Capiz said in a phone message that the House of Representatives already “approved” such a bill “as early as January 2018.”

“The ball…is with the Senate,” he added.

For his part, Senator Joel J. Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development, said in a statement on April 29: “We’re optimistic that the Senate will be able to send the Security of Tenure Bill to the bicameral conference just before the 17th Congress adjourns. The President certified this as urgent, and the entire institution would want to see this through. While there have been various positions on the nitty-gritty of the bill, we want a measure that will protect the overall welfare of our workers.”

“We trust in our colleagues, especially in the leadership of our Senate President, that they will help us pass this measure given the time we have left,” he added.

The President also noted in his message that despite the yearly observance of Labor Day, “the plight of our workers, especially those who choose to leave their families so they may earn better compensation abroad, remains the same.”

He added: “This is why my administration has implemented measures within its powers to afford full protection to labor and promote equal work opportunities for all.”

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a separate statement that Mr. Duterte’s administration “has been in the forefront” in improving the labor conditions of Filipino workers.

The President, he also said, has signed Republic Acts (RAs) and Executive Orders (EOs) that strengthen occupational safety and health standards (RA No. 11058), making work from home as an alternative work arrangement (RA No. 11165), increasing female workers’ maternity leave period (RA No. 11210), providing a handbook on the rights and responsibilities of migrant workers (RA No. 11227), increasing the employment compensation funeral benefits for employees in the public and private sectors (EO No. 33), protecting the right to security of tenure of all workers (EO 51), increasing employees’ compensation benefits in the private sector and career’s allowance in the public sector (EO No. 54) and granting of gratuity pay to job order and contract service workers in the government (AO No. 2), among others.

Implementing rules and regulations are now out on the extended maternity leave.

“It is also during the current government when the welfare and concern of our overseas foreign workers (OFWs) were given priority. We now have a one-stop service center for OFWs, a 24/7 OFWs Command Center and an Overseas Filipino Bank. We have signed bilateral labor agreements with Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to name some,” Mr. Panelo further said.

He also took a swipe at the President’s critics, especially the Kilusang Mayo Uno, or the May First Labor Movement (KMU).

“The KMU criticizes the government for being anti-poor and anti-worker while blaming the government for the lack of jobs and alleged worsening labor conditions. What seems to escape them is the truth that their anti-government activities could scare away foreign investors in the country resulting in job losses to the people they are fighting for and vow to protect,” he said.