Measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on labor issues

measures-effects-covid-19-labor-issues-marta-villagomez

The arrival of COVID-19, cataloged as a global pandemic, and the measures that Governments have adopted to mitigate its effects, have brought a deep economic crisis that affects directly both employers and workers.

According to ILO’s (International Labor Organization) official data, it is estimated that COVID-19 could cause the loss of 25 million jobs worldwide.

In Ecuador, the President of the Republic declared a state of emergency and suspended on-site labor activities from March 17th to April 12th. This period may be extended according to the development of the pandemic.

Those entities that perform activities within health, safety, airports, financial, food, pharmacies and exporting sectors and its supply chain are authorized by the Government to operate.

Entities belonging to other sectors are able to operate if services they provide and the activities carried out by their workers can be performed from home through “emergency telework”, as the authority has called it.

Some emergency measures have been established with the purpose of protecting employment and guaranteeing the health of workers, but also with the objective of preserving the financial stability of the employer. These measures are described below:

1. Suspension of work maintaining payment rights

For those entities that are required to suspend all or part of their activities as a consequence of the Government’s measures, the following should be considered:

  • Employer must pay its workers during the period on which activities are suspended.
  • Employer and its workers may agree on a payment schedule of the salaries accrued during the period on which activities are suspended.
  • Employer has the right to recover the period on which activities were suspended, increasing the working schedule up to 12 hours a week and 8 hours on Saturdays.
  • If worker does not fulfill with recovery time, employer may deduct from any future salary payments what employee had received during the suspension period.

In order to introduce suspension of work, employer must fulfill the online process implemented by the Ministry of Labor.

2. Reduction of working hours (work schedule)

Employers may reduce the working hours temporarily or permanently and reduce proportionally worker´s remuneration – including teleworkers – under the following scenarios:

  • With worker’s consent

According to article 82 of the Labor Code, it is possible to agree with worker to permanently or temporarily reduce their working hours and their remuneration proportionally. For its implementation, it will be necessary to enter into an addendum to the employment agreement and file such addendum with the Ministry of Labor and the Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security (“IESS”).

  • Without worker’s consent

According to article 47.1. of the Labor Code and Accord MDT-2020-077 issued by the Ministry of Labor, the latter may authorize the reduction of working hours. Such reduction will be mandatory for workers, under the following conditions:

  1. Working hours may not be reduced to less than 30 hours per week.
  2. The measure can be applied for up to 6 months, renewable for an additional 6 months.
  3. Employer contribution to IESS must be paid based on the full remuneration corresponding to 8 hours of work per day.
  4. In the event that during the reduction of the working hours the labor relationship is terminated without cause, severance shall be calculated based on the last monthly remuneration received by worker before the working hours reduction.
  5. If the company generates profits in the fiscal year in which the measure was applied, it will not be entitled to distributing dividends without first paying workers the balance they stopped receiving as a result of the reduction in working hours.

In order to introduce suspension of work, employer must fulfill the online process implemented by the Ministry of Labor.

3. Emergency vacation planning

During the health emergency, employer may require its workers to take any pending paid vacation time. Employer may also agree with its workers for them to take advance vacation time.

4. Work leave with or without payment

Additionally, employers may resort to the following alternatives in order to maintain employment and at the same time preserve the financial status of the company: 

  • Leave without payment

With worker’s consent, a “leave without payment” may be agreed. In order to apply such leave, an agreement must be entered between the parties. Under this alternative, the employment relationship does not end, worker holds his/her seniority in the company.

An exit notice for “leave without payment” must be registered in IESS online system. Therefore,  worker will not be covered by Social Security during the leave period.

  •  Leave with partial payment

With worker’s consent, a “leave with partial payment” may be agreed. In order to apply such leave, an agreement must be entered between the parties. Under this alternative, employer recognizes the worker a percentage of his/her remuneration during the leave period.

Contribution to the IESS will be made on the amount actually paid to the worker, but it may not be less than 50% of the statutory minimum wage (currently US$400.00).

5. Modification of working conditions

Employer and workers may agree on work alternatives established in the existing regulations, due to conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mobility restrictions, preventing infection risks and employer’s financial situation. All these must not imply a waiver to workers’ rights. For example, parties could modify the type of agreement or take health and safety measures such as workers’ remaining in suitable places inside the employer’s facilities, among many others.

6. Termination of the employment relationship

If it is not possible for employer to maintain its workers or part of them, company will be able to unilaterally terminate the employment contracts by paying the corresponding severance determined by law. Government has not established the intangibility of employment contracts due to the pandemic, except for those specific cases already provided by law.

Some lawyers have expressed their opinion that labor contracts may be unilaterally terminated without severance payments under these circumstances due to force majeure (restrictions imposed by the government). We do not agree with these criteria, due to the social nature of labor law, pro operario principle, and consequently, the possible risks employer would assume now and in the future.

Finally, it shall also be considered that workers who lose their jobs due to causes beyond their control and who meet the conditions established by  IESS – 24 accumulated monthly contributions and at least 6 continuous contributions immediately prior to termination – will be able to access “unemployment insurance” for a maximum period of 5 months, once 60 days have elapsed without employment.

 

Marta Villagómez
Senior Associate at CorralRosales
mvillagomez@corralrosales.co

Reforms to Ministry of Labor guidelines on the application of reduction, modification or emergency suspension of work activities

work-activities-reduction-modification-suspension-Covid-19-labor

On March 28, the Ministry of Labor amended the Ministerial Agreement MDT-2020-077, regarding guidelines on the application of reduction, modification or emergency suspension of work activities during the sanitary emergency.

Working-day schedule modification

Employer that modifies working schedule due to the sanitary emergency, must allow their workers to rest for 2 consecutive days.

Suspension of work activities 

  • Employer is entitled to recover the period on which activities were suspended, increasing the working schedule up to 12 hours during the week and 8 hours on Saturdays.
  • Employer and workers may agree on a wage payment schedule during the period on which activities are suspended.

Emergency vacation planning

During the health emergency, employer may require its workers to take any vacations days they have available. Employer may also agree with their workers to take early vacations, to do so, the corresponding vacation request must be submitted.

Working conditions modifications 

Employer and workers may agree on work alternatives established in the existing regulations, due to conditions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the mobilization impossibility, prevention infection risks and employer´s financial status. All these must not imply a waiver to workers’ rights.

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DISCLAIMER: The previous text has been prepared for informational purposes. CorralRosales is not responsible for any loss or damage caused as a result of having acted or stopped acting based on the information contained in this document. Any additional determined situation requires the specific opinion and concept of the firm.

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State of emergency – tax measures

state-of-emergency-tax-measures

By Executive Decree 1021 issued on March 27, 2020, the President of Ecuador, adopted the following tax measures within the state of emergency:

1. Income tax withholding:

The following entities will be required to withhold and pay on a monthly basis income tax over their total taxable income obtained in each month:

Entity activity 

Monthly income tax withholding rate (%)

Financial institutions under the supervision of the Superintendency of Banks and entities that provide mobile telephone services. 1,75%
Entities that have entered into contracts with the Goverment for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons under any modality or, contracts for specific works and services under the Hydrocarbons Law or, complementary petroleum services as well as transportation of crude oil. 1,5%

The withholding tax receipt must be issued in the name of the withholding agent and the value withheld will be consider as tax credit for paying the withholding agent’s income tax.

2. Tax payment deadlines:

For this time only, the taxpayers who at this date are considered as:

  • Micro-enterprises;
  • Those domiciled in Galapagos Islands;
  • Those who are regular exporters of goods, or that 50% of their income derived from the export of goods; or,
  • Those whose economic activity is:
    1. The operation of airlines,
    2. The tourism sector, exclusively those that provide accommodation and/or food services; or,
    3. The agricultural sector.

Will be able to pay the corporate income tax for the fiscal year 2019 and the value added tax (VAT) to be paid in April, May and June 2020 as follows:

  1. Payments will be made in 6 installments during the year 2020 in the following percentages: in each of the first two months, the taxpayers are required to pay 10% of the total value; and, in each of the remaining four months, taxpayers are required to pay 20% of the total value.
  2. These payments will be made according to the ninth digit of Tax ID as follows:
Ninth Digit of Tax ID 

Payment Date

1 10th of each month
2 12th of each month
3 14th of each month
4 16th of each month
5 18th of each month
6 20th of each month
7 22nd of each month
8 24th of each month
9 26th of each month
0 28th of each month

Taxpayers domiciled in the province of Galapagos are able to make the payment until the 28th of each month..

If a payment deadline overlaps with a mandatory rest day or holiday, the deadline shall be the next working day unless that day falls on the following month, in which case the payment deadline shall be anticipated to the last working day of the month.

If the taxpayer makes the payment after the deadlines have expired, he must pay the respective interest and fines in addition to the tax

  1. The payment of 2019 corporate income tax for the entities described above, will be made from April to September 2020 in the percentages and terms indicated in numbers 1 and 2 of this document.
  2. The payment of VAT for the months of April, May and June 2020 will be made in the percentages and terms described above, in the following months:
VAT to be paid in the month of

Months of Payment:

April 2020 From April to September, 2020
May 2020 From May to October, 2020
June 2020 From June to November, 2020
  1. Taxpayers subject to the Micro-enterprise Taxation Regime shall file their VAT return on a semi-annual basis. These taxpayers will not be subject to the exception regime detailed above.

 

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National Assembly requires the Executive Branch to establish mandatory licenses and access to testing data and technology to fight COVID-19

licenses-testing-data-intellectual-property

Through Resolution dated March 20, 2019, the Education, Science and Technology Commission of the National Assembly (Legislative Branch) in charge of Intellectual Property matters, requested that the Executive Branch include in the emergency declaration the adoption of administrative and technical mechanisms for the establishment of “compulsory patent licenses, access to testing data and access to other technologies for the availability of vaccines, drugs, diagnoses, devices, supplies, and other useful means for surveillance, prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of people infected by Coronavirus (COVID-19).”

For the local IP office to have a compulsory emergency license, it will first be necessary to issue the corresponding executive decree (Presidency) or ministerial agreement (Ministry of Health) detailing the reasons for the emergency. The validity of the compulsory license will be maintained only while the grounds for the emergency declaration last.

The exploitation of the patent may be carried out directly by the state or a state contractor and it will not be the duty of the IP office to notify the holder of the patent with the compulsory license immediately upon its adoption, since the law establishes that the same will be done “when reasonably possible”.

The owner of the patent on which the compulsory license was ordered will receive financial compensation and may continue to exploit it directly.

The Executive Branch has not ruled on this request so far.

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