Text by Alodia Carey Baisas
What you need to know:
- Nineteen teachers of Holy Family School of Quezon City, Inc. were constructively dismissed on June 29 after refusing to comply with the school’s work policy in preparation for remote learning.
- The Holy Family Faculty Labor Union refused to comply due to provisions on a ‘no work, no pay’ policy for teachers unable to report to school for the skeleton work force and a mandatory on-site dry run to select the roster of teachers for the semester.
- Although they hired replacement teachers after removing the teaching load of the Union members, the school administration denies that they committed union busting.
Nineteen teachers of Holy Family School of Quezon City, Inc. (HFSQCI), a private Catholic school, are entangled in a labor dispute with school officials after being constructively dismissed and replaced as the school forays into remote learning.
Members of the Holy Family Faculty Labor Union (HFFLU) filed a case before the Department of Labor and Employment’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board on account of alleged unfair labor practice, specifically “union busting, refusal to bargain and illegal lockout.”
School administrators constructively dismissed all 19 Union members last June 29, leaving them without a source of income to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic for almost three months.
Philippine courts in the past have ruled constructive dismissals to be scenarios where employees are placed in unfair and untenable positions, leading to almost impossible working conditions.
In a statement posted on HFSQCI’s Facebook page, the school board of trustees refuted the group’s allegations by insisting that it had never obstructed the Union’s activities and that it had only hired new teachers to gear up for the opening of classes on Aug. 3.
However, the school management hammered the final nail in the Union’s coffin through its constructive dismissal of regular and tenured teachers who comprised the faculty’s sole and exclusive bargaining agent.
Teachers in the Union now find themselves booted out of the classroom with the school having hired replacement teachers just as the academic year kicked off.
Termination due to refusal to sign Statement of Undertaking
The school sent individual emails to faculty members requiring them to sign a Statement of Undertaking last July 1 following DepEd Order No. 13, s. 2020, which listed private schools’ requirements for online learning.
The Statement of Undertaking certifies that teachers are equipped to deliver online distance learning and were willing to participate in the on-site dry run beginning July 13.
The HFSQCI administration insisted that the teacher’s individual Statements of Undertaking were needed to comply with DepEd’s requirements that would guarantee the school was ready for remote learning.
Members of the Union refused to sign the statement due to provisions that caused their apprehension. Among these were the execution of a “dry run” for distance learning that will determine their inclusion in the roster of teachers for the academic year despite having signed contracts as regular and tenured faculty.
Teachers also decried provisions in an earlier memorandum that dictated a ‘no work, no pay’ policy for employees who could not report on-site for the skeleton workforce during the scheduled gap weeks from June 8 to July 12.
HFSQCI Directress Teresita Arcos-Surot said in a webinar on schools’ safety and security amid the pandemic June 23 that the management declared the ‘no work, no pay’ policy due to insufficient revenues from tuition fee collection.
Volunteers for the skeleton workforce also had to submit a letter of intent indicating their ability to perform the special tasks, which include promotion, preparation of lesson plans and creation of summative tests.
Teachers were not authorized to work from home because management assessed that 70 percent of faculty had weak internet connectivity, Surot added.
The Union alleged that the policy was presented to them in an “all-or-nothing” manner, leaving no room for negotiation or clarification on ambiguous matters.
“The agreement which was in the guise of a memorandum (Memorandum No. 1), was thrust upon the teachers without consultation despite the fact that it clearly concerns their wages and benefits,” the Sept. 28 HFFLU statement read.
Despite the faculty’s concerns on the work policy, Surot stated that teachers who refused to sign the Statement of Undertaking would be prohibited from joining the skeleton workforce and from entering the campus without prior approval.
On-site dry run
The educators also proposed online training as an alternative to the on-site dry run after one of their colleagues who participated tested positive for COVID-19 and later passed away.
The dry run was supposed to determine the list of teachers for the school year, but the administration did not give specific standards or criteria for evaluation. Teachers were only informed that they would be taught to use Microsoft 365, the Aralinks Learning System and other relevant skills.
After several attempts to reach out to school management and even the Congregation of the Siervas de San Jose, the religious order overseeing HFSQCI, the Union’s pleas were unaddressed.
The school’s decision to require all faculty to attend the dry run gave them “unbridled discretion in terminating any and all teachers who may not meet their unstated and unclear standards,” the Union added.
Asserting their right to strike
In response to the online flak sparked by the protest, the HFSQCI administration claimed that they submitted a counterproposal to the Union, allowed teachers to train off-site and were only forced to hire new teachers “to protect the interests of the Familian students and families.”
They also threatened to pursue legal action against the group for allegedly staging an illegal strike and committing libel against Surot by “publicly maligning, ridiculing, and defaming the person of the Directress of HFSQCI.”
The Union asserted that the school committed union-busting when they hired replacement teachers after withholding training and workload to the Union due to their refusal to execute a Statement of Undertaking.
Holy Family insisted, however, that there was no union-busting because none of the teachers or officers of the Union had been terminated.
The Labor Code of the Philippines states that union-busting takes place when the existence of the union is threatened by an employer’s dismissal of its officers.
The Union also insisted that there was an illegal lockout due to “the management’s refusal to furnish work to the teachers without the requisite notice and vote.”
Amid pushback from the school administration, the 19 educators asserted that their protest did not warrant the accusations against them.
“The Union is fighting for [our] constitutionally-mandated rights, it is fighting for [our] students, and it is fighting against the autocratic forces that threaten to erode the very institution that imbued in its Union members the primacy of human dignity and work, the very same values that the Union can only pray that the management likewise share and uphold,” a representative of HFFLU said.
With two months into the first semester, HFSQCI’s only concession for the dismissed teachers is offering them to return to teach in the second semester, provided that they commit to the compulsory training for remote learning in October and November.
While still employed, the 19 dismissed teachers will receive no pay due to the lack of a teaching load for the current semester.
A member of the Union said that this training should be facilitated by an expert and in conformity with the health standards set by DepEd, the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
She added that the last resort for the educators if HFSQCI will not allow them to return to work is to find other ways to support their financial needs, which they have been doing since they were dismissed.
Students and alumnae have joined the educators online in calling for accountability and transparency from the administration, as well as in fighting to uphold their rights as laborers and human beings.
“The Familian community could best support us through their prayers, weigh the issue based on facts presented by two parties in their official statement at hindi sa mga personal na opinyon ng sinuman,” the Union member said.