Friday, July 3, 2009

Pushing an agenda

Recently, in behalf of our company, I attended a workplace orientation by the Department of Labor. It was held by the DOLE QC field office to help us “comply and implement Article 134 of the Labor Code and DOLE Department Order 56-03”.

The invitation partly states: “To assist you in your compliance is the QUEZON CITY COUNCIL ON POPULATION, INC. (QCCP), a non-government organization duly registered at the Securities and Exhange Commission and endorsed by DOLE-NCR and Department of Health (DOH) as the Technical Assistance Provider in Quezon City”.

For reference, Article 134 of the Labor Code states:

ARTICLE 134. Family planning services; incentives for family planning. –

(a) Establishments which are required by law to maintain a clinic or infirmary shall provide free family planning services to their employees which shall include, but not be limited to, the application or use of contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices.

(b) In coordination with other agencies of the government engaged in the promotion of family planning, the Department of Labor and Employment shall develop and prescribe incentive bonus schemes to encourage family planning among female workers in any establishment or enterprise.

I am no labor lawyer, but I see the vagueness (on purpose?) in the wording of said article. A134-(a) states “Establishments… shall provide free family planning services to their employees which shall include, but not be limited to, the application or use of contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices.”. The manner of satisfactory compliance in substance is not clearly stated, and I would interpret this article to mean that if companies provide free educational services in the form of forums, counseling, and informational materials (including on the application and use of contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices) , then I would construe that as satisfactory compliance in providing free family planning services. The company could educate employees how contraceptive pills, IUDs, and Natural Family Planning work, fine. Everyone should be aware of the different methods of Family Planning, at least from an informative, factual standpoint. Just wanted to make sure that the boldface and underline on that last one is noticed. What I am also getting at is that the said DOLE provision does NOT make it mandatory for companies to actually dispense and/or administer free contraceptive drugs and devices to its employees.

As an implementing guideline, we now look to DOLE Dept Order 56-03. D.O. 56-03 is by no means prescriptive either. In Section 2, it states the ten new priorities of the Family Welfare Program: (a) Reproductive Health & Responsible Parenthood; (b) Education / Gender Equality; (c) Spirituality / Value Formation; (d) Income Generation / Livelihood / Cooperative; (e) Medical Health Care; (f) Nutrition Environment Protection, Hygiene & Sanitation; (g) Sports & Leisure; (i) Housing; and (j) Transportation. In Section 6 (Employers Responsibilities), it says “Establishments employing more than two hundred (200) workers in any locality shall form a Family Welfare Committee (FWC) through the assistance of the DOLE Regional Offices. The FWC will be responsible for planning, organizing and implementing an in-plant family welfare program. The in-plant program shall focus on the ten dimensions of the FWP. It shall Provide the necessary support, assistance and resources to the FWC”

Again, no prescription of methods here, just that companies should form their own FWCs who would then formulate its own programs according to the agenda. I must admit though, that this particular D.O. seems overly ambitious with its advocacy of the ten-point priority. Any company that could manage to comprehensively cover all those ten priorities (!) should be earning way, way too much. And at the rate companies nowadays are downsizing and even shutting down, I wish DOLE and the FWCs lots of luck. They’re going to need it.

Now back to the workshop. In her presentation, the QCCP spokesperson presented a “Workplace Family Planning Menu of Options”. Note the word “options”, it will be apparent in a while. In this particular slide, she suggested service delivery in three categories. (1) Education: Demand-generation (awareness campaign, dissemination of IEC materials, various BCC activities); Referral (public, private, NGO); (2) Counseling/ Dispensing: In plant by medical as trained counselors; Dispensing – Condoms and Pills & other MCH products in-plant; Tetanus toxoid; vaccination; DMPA provision in-plant; and IUD insertion in-plant; and (3) Referral: IUD insertion; DMPA; No Scalpel Vasectomy and Bilateral Tubal Ligation.

Now if you were wondering if the QCCP leans to a specific agenda, this slide makes you wonder no more. Just a minute, I ask the presentor: Why is Natural Family Planning not included in the menu of options? She said it is included right there in the service delivery, as they also promote “informed choices”. Again I ask: Where, ma’m? (I certainly couldn’t see it in the above slide even if I read it over and over) As she cannot show any reference to NFP in her entire material, I pointed out that the specific exclusion is misleading. She just repeated that NFP is included and she instructed her assistant to note it down. [sigh]

The presentation went on for about an hour, now and then stressing the importance of productivity in the workplace, in conjunction with Family Welfare. A little bit emphasis on - if employees had too many children, their productivity in the workplace suffers, just to rub it in. Never mind that parents commit dedication to jobs precisely because of their children. Apparently, this particular NGO is endorsed by the DOLE to assist companies in implementing D.O. 56-03, with particular emphasis on contraceptives. Finally, they handed out unsigned Letters of Commitment, urging us to have our companies formally enter into partnership with them so they can assist our companies in the implementation. I observed that some of the attendees from the other companies seemed too eager. I suppose that some others just might feel obligated to actively promote contraceptives in the workplace as a way of compliance – judging by the way QCCP presented its approach. Surely, there are many ways of being compliant without actively promoting contraceptives like “dispensing condoms and pills and IUD insertion in-plant” that this NGO suggests. For instance, our company already gives benefits and fringes in most of those priorities that are over and above what is mandated by existing laws. My last question to QCCP is, just how many of the 10-point priorities are they addressing with their assistance program? She revealed that they are concentrating on just one for now: “Reproductive Health & Responsible Parenthood”.

It figures.

Anyway, on the way out I met a doctor acquaintance. We had a small chat. They are observing the workshop and he said his group is a support partner of this NGO. He offered to tap me for NFP consultancy. By the way, this doctor works for USAID.

Ah, it really figures.

So God help us.

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