When the Philippine government declared the country under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), only private establishments providing basic necessities were allowed to be physically open, provided they would operate on a skeletal workforce strictly to run operations following strict social distancing rules and/or Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs). Other private establishments were required to temporarily close their physical offices during the ECQ period, subject to the adoption of Work-From-Home (WFH) arrangements and/or other alternative FWAs which were consistent with the imposition of the ECQ.
Faced with the physical closure of their establishments under the ECQ, the first question that came to the employer’s mind was “how could the company continue to operate during the ECQ?”
Employment relationships in the time of the ECQ have been largely governed by Labor Advisory No. 09 Series of 2020 (the “COVID-19 Flexi-Work Advisory”), issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on March 4, 2020, prior to the imposition of the ECQ. Under this Advisory, employers were encouraged to adopt FWAs to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including reduction of work hours and/or workdays, rotation of employees and other alternative work arrangements in order to cushion or mitigate the effect of the loss of income of the employee and to ease further conflict in the workplace.
The COVID-19 lockdown period will bring many moments of sympathy and community among employees working in flexible work arrangements – but inevitably it will also mean breaking points, shocks of change, constant uncertainty, and sudden shifts of workload and taking on responsibilities to adapt to new conditions.
If this pandemic stretches for long, all the church workers would be badly affected because they could no longer receive salaries or allowances. It would surely happen that work would be suspended, and the “no work, no pay” scheme would be implemented. This is what worries me so much at the moment. I hope the Congregation would stay by our side. But if it is the decision of the Congregation to stop work temporarily because of financial difficulties, I have no choice but to accept the reality. So, there has to be mutual understanding, hoping that this pandemic would end soon. But the question is: “WHEN?” Right now, I am trying to save as best as I can to help me survive in my daily needs.”
So, one way to face potential conflicts in the workplace, especially between the employees and the employers, is to workout mutual understanding. This means that the employers understand the needs and living requirements of the employees, and at the same time, the employees understand the financial status of the employers. Furthermore, mutual understanding is possible when there is open communication between the two parties. If anything, conversations must be honest, and there must be empathy, or “putting oneself in another’s shoes,” where no-one is left feeling remote, stewing with worries. Most importantly, there has to be an ongoing and increasing level of trust.
First of all, Human Resource Departments need to acknowledge this potential for tensions in relationships between employers and employees. Thus, they can actively promote open communication, like starting a conversation about the employees’ personal, family and financial issues during the lockdown. They can extend mediation service that can be carried out online via video conferencing.
Conversations may not always be straightforward, and there would be challenges and grievances. Employers, and their managers, need to pay attention to their levels of ‘conversational integrity,’ such as how they go about making sure they are listening to their employees, and will always be responsible in dealing with conflict head on than looking for excuses to avoid it.
Everyone wants a normal life. What is critical is that the work to restore normality isn’t undermined by employee relations issues, when there could have been time and opportunity for more, and more thoughtful, workplace conversations.