Introduction
Case law and legislation
Comment


Introduction

Throughout the decades, the Philippines has been consistent in its efforts to close the gender gap in the workplace and to open up more opportunities for women. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2021, the Philippines was one of 18 countries in the world that had closed at least 79.5% of economic participation and opportunity gaps. This upward trajectory towards inclusive development has allowed for more Filipino women to not only enter but also actively participate in the labour market.

The consistently progressive status of Filipino women in the workforce is not an accident; it is the result of collective national efforts through law and policymaking. Present laws and policies in the country have provided opportunities for women to fruitfully engage in the workforce through reasonable accommodations.

Case law and legislation

In 1997, the Philippine Supreme Court recognised that the country's Constitution – cognisant of the disparity in rights between men and women in almost all phases of social and political life – provides a range of protective provisions for women.(1) The Declaration of Principles and State Policy, under article II(14), specifically acknowledges the contribution of women to nation-building and directs the state to continuously uphold the fundamental equality of women and men before the law. According to article XIII(3), the state must:

  • provide comprehensive protection for labour;
  • support full employment;
  • ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to find employment; and
  • guarantee that all employees are entitled to tenancy security.

Finally, the state is mandated to protect working women by providing opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential, according to article XIII(14).

The enactment of the Labour Code in 1974 affirmed the country's commitment to addressing gender inequality in the workplace and putting in place reasonable accommodations to address the particular needs of women. The Labour Code recognises women as a special group of employees and dedicates an entire chapter to considering the special circumstances surrounding their employment. This highlights the extent to which women are provided accommodations under the law so they can be productive members of the workforce without experiencing any gender-based discrimination.

A more targeted legislation to uphold and protect the rights of women, Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta for Women, explicitly prohibits discrimination against women with respect to the terms and conditions of their employment and promotion and training opportunities. The law even recognises the right of women against non-discrimination in employment in the military, police and other similar services. More concretely, the law affords female employees a special leave benefit of two months with full pay based on her gross monthly compensation following surgery caused by gynaecological disorders. In enacting this law:

[The] State commits in ensuring the full integration of women's concerns in the mainstream of development, by providing ample opportunities to enhance and develop their skills, acquire productive employment and contribute to their families and communities to the fullest of their capabilities.(2)

In recognition of women's maternal function as a social responsibility of the state, the Philippines passed into law Republic Act No. 11210 or the Expanded Maternity Leave Act, increasing the daily maternity leave benefits enjoyed by pregnant employees under the Labour Code from the initial 60 days for normal delivery, or 72 days for caesarean delivery, to 105 days, regardless of the type of delivery. Qualified solo parents are entitled to an additional 15 days paid leave. Notably, from the previous limit of the first four deliveries or miscarriages, the law further expands maternity leave to every instance of pregnancy, miscarriage or emergency termination, regardless of frequency.

Even pending legislations that have not yet reached fruition as law present beacons of hope for female employees. Notably, in November 2022, House Bill No. 4479, which amends article 135 of the Labour Code, passed its third and final reading. The bill seeks to strengthen the anti-discrimination provisions of the law by classifying three instances as acts of discrimination – namely:

  • paying a female employee less than a male employee, for work of equal value;
  • favouring a male employee over a female employee with respect to the following solely on account of their sex:
    • assignment;
    • promotion;
    • employment benefits;
    • training opportunities;
    • study and scholarship grants; and
  • favouring a male employee over a female employee with respect to the dismissal of personnel or the application of any retrenchment policy of the employer solely on account of their sex.

Comment

Despite multiple progressive legislations, socio-cultural barriers still exist that prevent Filipino women from enjoying the same rights and benefits received by men in the workplace. While not bumping into institutional barriers when entering the workforce, societal expectations still hold back women from full participation. Filipino women can be constrained by:

  • family responsibilities;
  • lack of access to reproductive health services; and
  • poor availability of quality, affordable childcare services near their homes or workplace.

These are just some of the wider concerns that restrain Filipino women employees from gaining true gender equality.

The institutional framework is not, however, futile. It is continuing to evolve and address the concerns of women. Clearly, the Philippines' present policies have set the tone for continued gender-focused legislative development. Non-governmental organisations continue to champion and push for bills that address the core issues faced by women by easing their societal burdens. Weaving a larger support web to highlight female employee's issues and rights should be, and optimistically is, a national priority.

For further information on this topic please contact Rashel Ann C Pomoy or Roy Santos Necesario at Villaraza & Angangco by telephone (+63 8 988 6088‚Äč) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Villaraza & Angangco website can be accessed at www.thefirmva.com.

Endnotes

(1) Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Company v National Labor Relations Commission, GR No. 118978 (1997).

(2) Section 2, Chapter I, Rep Act No. 9710.