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'Work-from-home' bill awaits Duterte's signature to become a law

The “work-from-home” bill or Telecommuting Act of 2017 is now only awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte's signature to become a law after the Senate and House of Representatives ratified the report of the bicameral conference committee.

“We are now one step closer to our goal—to produce a cohesive and strong policy that affords our workers meaningful work-life balance and an option to work under a flexible work arrangement,” Senator Joel Villanueva, author and sponsor of the bill, said in a press statement Thursday.

The bill encourages employers to allow telecommuting or the partial or total substitution of computers or telecommunication technologies for the commute to work by employees.

Telecommuting is a work arrangement that allows an employee in the private sector to work from an alternative workplace with the use of telecommunication and/or computer technologies.

The bicam report states telecommuting will remain as employers’ prerogative based on a mutual agreement.

“Once this work-from-home bill becomes a law, we can now have a stable and consistent legal framework that can provide an enabling environment to encourage participation and enforce compliance among enterprises, big or small," Villanueva said.

He said while a telecommuting program is voluntary or optional, it should not be less than the minimum labor standards set by law including that for health and safety of workers, schedule and workloads, work hours and social security.

“We are confident that we have placed enough safeguards in this bill that will not only promote our workers’ right to work-life balance and flexible work arrangement but also ensure that the rights of home-based workers are protected by giving them equal pay, leave benefits and promotion as their counterparts in the office,” he said.

Aside from promoting work-life balance, Villanueva said the bill also seeks to address traffic congestion and its tremendous effect on the country's economy.

Once the bill is enacted into law, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is expected to come up with guidelines that will ensure the "fair treatment” provision of the measure such as the:

  • Rate of pay, including overtime and night shift differential, and other similar monetary benefits not lower than those provided in applicable laws, and collective bargaining agreements; 
  • Right to rest periods, regular holidays, and special non-working days;
  • Equivalent workload and performance standards as those of comparable workers at the employer’s premises;
  • Access to training and career development opportunities as those of comparable workers at the employer’s premises, and be subject to the same appraisal policies covering these workers;
  • Appropriate training on the technical equipment at their disposal, and the characteristics and conditions of telecommuting; and 
  • Collective rights as the workers at the employer’s premises, and shall not be barred from communicating with workers’ representatives.

The proposed law also provides for the establishment of a telecommuting pilot program in select industries for a period of not more than three years to enable DOLE to determine the advantages and disadvantages of a telecommuting program in the Philippines. —Amita Legaspi/KBK, GMA News