“If we can commit to test POGO workers, we can commit to test Filipino workers.”
This was the remark of Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday as she pushed for mandatory testing of employees who will have to go out of their homes and report to work even amid the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19.
“Kasama dapat sa dagdag-proteksyon sa manggagawang Pilipino na balik-trabaho sa gitna ng pandemic ang proper testing,” Hontiveros said after Malacañang announced the lifting and easing of quarantine protocols in many parts of the country by May 16, 2020.
Under the new rules, movement and mobility in areas still under modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) like Metro Manila will remain restricted, although manufacturing and processing plants workforce will be allowed to operate with 50 percent of their workforce. In areas under general community quarantine (GCQ), government offices and private establishments will be allowed to reopen with as much as 75 percent of their workforce.
“If we can require COVID-19 testing for POGO workers, all the more that we should require the same for Filipino workers who are facing the same risks,” the senator said, citing the government’s previous pronouncement that workers in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry will undergo COVID-19 testing before they resume operations.
“While we want working class Filipinos to continue earning a living and critical industries to remain operational, we must implement measures to prevent a possible second spread of COVID-19 in workplaces,” Hontiveros urged. According to the senator, mandatory COVID-19 testing for returning employees is an essential measure to protect Filipino workers and lessen the risk to which they will be exposing themselves and their families.
Although the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Trade Industry (DTI) have issued safety guidelines for workplaces, Hontiveros said, the rules provide no means to detect and isolate workers that are infected with COVID-19 but show no symptoms.
“Kailangan nating mag-doble-ingat. Kahit walang simtomas, maari pa ring carrier ng COVID-19. This is why we need to test people as they go back to work,” she said.
Hontiveros also pushed for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1441 or the ‘Balik Trabahong Ligtas Act’ that seeks to provide mandatory health coverage and other benefits for workers in the public and private sectors during a health emergency. The bill particularly requires workplaces with 50 or more workers to provide free diagnostic testing for their workers during a health emergency in coordination with relevant government agencies.
“The private sector and the government should work together to build disease-free workplaces by implementing measures that protect Filipino workers’ health such as wearing PPEs and implementing social distancing and other workplace safety guidelines,” she urged.