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By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Philippines has banned companies from forcing female employees to wear high heels at work, in a move lauded by a labour union on Monday that said it was one of the first countries in the world to do so to protect women’s rights.
Citing health and safety issues, the Philippines’ labour department said companies can no longer compel women to wear high heels, after four women lodged a complaint to a labour union which took the matter to the authorities.
The department issued the order earlier this month and the union said it would officially take effect on Sept. 29.
“This frees women from a sexist policy and the bondage of unsafe and dangerous working conditions,” said Alan Tanjusay of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, which spearheaded the policy change.
“(It) gives them more freedom and businesses will be more productive,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Manila.
The union spokesman said he believed the Philippines is the first country to impose a nationwide ban after the Canadian province of British Columbia issued a similar order in April.
Campaigners have argued dress codes that require female employees to wear make up or high heels at work are sexist and discriminatory. Wearing high heels for a long period of time can also cause pain and long-term damage, they say.
The British government in April rejected a recommendation from lawmakers to outlaw such practice, after saying existing laws were adequate to deal with gender discrimination.
The Philippine government’s order said companies must allow women to wear practical and comfortable footwear, and cannot compel them to wear shoes higher than one inch (2.5 cm).
“Women, such as salesladies and lady guards, should not be compelled to wear high-heeled shoes in the workplace, nor be deprived of a short span of sitting breaks to prevent health risks,” according to the order.
The department said prolonged standing while wearing high heels will not only cause pain and fatigue, but can also lead to problems in the spine and joints.
Tanjusay from the labour union said the practice of ordering women to wear high heels is widespread across the Philippines, especially in industries such as retail, restaurants, airlines and hotels.
Some 1 million Filipina women who are employed as sales assistants will benefit from the policy change, according to the union.
The ban came after four women - who work as part-time sales assistants - complained to the union that they had suffered pain from wearing high heels for long hours.
"They asked us to help because they ... are afraid of reprisals and worried they will be dismissed from their jobs," said Tanjusay, who added that he hoped the ban would encourage other countries to follow suit. (Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)