Underscoring the importance of promoting workers’ mental health, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has mandated the adoption and implementation of mental health policies and programs in workplaces. In Department Order No. 208, series of 2020 signed on February 11, 2020, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III provided the guidelines to employers and workers for the effective implementation of mental health policies and programs in accordance with Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act.

For 19-year-old “Lilian Axe”, a student in one of the local universities in the city, with the passage of RA 11036 which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on 21 June 2018 is a sigh of relief. “Lilian Axe”, who is within the autism spectrum and diagnosed with depression when he was 17, spends at least Three thousand five hundred (P3,500) pesos monthly for therapy and medicines.

With the Mental Health Act, this law will provide government support to persons with mental health needs and will provide better access to mental healthcare in the general health system. The government will help in the treatment not only of diseases like cancer and pneumonia but also of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia. This law improves Filipino’s access to psychosocial services such as therapy and medication. Before, access to treatment is only enjoyed more by those who can afford or in local term “may-kaya”.  With RA 11036, the law recognizes that the need for wellness and treatment are not just ‘rich people’s problems but they are rights of every Filipino, rich or poor.

DO 208-2020 hopes to raise further awareness, prevent stigma and discrimination among Filipino workers in as far as mental health conditions are concerned and provide support to workers with mental health issues for them to gain access to medical health services. The directive covers employers in the formal sector, including those that deploy overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

According to the order, an organization’s mental health program shall be prepared jointly by management and employee’s representatives and shall be made an integral part of the company’s occupational safety and health (OSH) policies and programs while in organized establishments, a mental health program may be included as part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Components of a mental health program shall include advocacy, information, education, training as well as promotion and enhancement of workers’ well-being; non-discriminatory policies and practices; confidentiality of information; disclosure of medical or mental condition; work accommodation and work arrangement; treatment, rehabilitation and referral system; benefits and compensation, among others.

Assistance in the formulation and implementation of the mental health policy and program may be sought from the labor department, Department of Health, and/or organizations rendering mental health services.

Establishments shall submit their respective mental health policy and program to the DOLE regional office having jurisdiction over them.

Also, establishments, projects and sites and all other places where work is being undertaken in all branches of economic activity are also reminded of Department Order No. 198 which details the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the implementation of Republic Act No. 11058 also known as the Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHS) law. It also covers the contractors and subcontractors including those engaged in the projects of the public sector.

The IRR “does not apply to the public sector such as national government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations with charters, government financial institutions, state universities and colleges and local government units,” as these are governed by appropriate rules and regulations issued by the Civil Service Commission and other government agencies.

Based on the IRR, every employers, contractors, or subcontractors, and any person who manages, control or supervise the work shall equip a place of employment for workers free from hazardous conditions; provide complete job safety instructions and proper orientation to all workers; ensure that the “chemical, physical and biological substances and agents, and ergonomic and psychosocial stresses under their control are without risk to health when the appropriate measures of protection are taken; use only approved specific industry set of standards of devices and equipment for the workplace as applicable; comply with occupational safety and health (OSH) including training, medical examination and when necessary, provisions on protective and safety devices such as personal protective equipment and machine guards; make arrangement for workers and their representatives to participate in the processes of organizing, planning, and implementation, monitoring, evaluation and action for improvement of the OSH management system; provide, when necessary, for measures identifying trainings and drill, evacuation plans, etc., to deal with emergencies, fires, and accidents including first-aid arrangements; and comply with all reportorial requirements of the OSH standards; and register establishment to DOLE as provided under the OSH standards.

Meanwhile, to ensure compliance with OSH standards, the workers shall participate in capacity-building activities on safety and health and other OSH-related topics and programs; proper use of all safeguards and safety devices; comply with instructions to prevent accidents or imminent danger situation; observe prescribed steps to be taken in cases of emergency, including participation on national or local disaster drills; report any work hazard that may be discovered in the workplace.

Failure or refusal of an employer, contractor, or subcontractor to comply will be meted a fine, ranging from P20,000 to P50,000 depending on the administrative violation committed. An employer, contractor or subcontractor who is found to have repeatedly violated the same prohibited act shall be penalized of the corresponding fine plus an additional fine equivalent to 50 percent thereof for every instance of repeat violation. Moreover, “if any of the following acts is present and there is noncompliance, the penalty of P100,000 administrative fine shall be imposed separate and in addition to the daily administrative fine imposed. The DOLE also stated that when the violation exposes the worker to death, serious injury or illness, the imposable penalty will be P100,000.

For more information, visit www.oshc.dole.gov.ph and www.dole.gov.ph

END/Patrick T Rillorta