Proposal to ECC for a more inclusive and speedy processing of workers’ Covid-19 claims

COVID-19 has already been recognized and declared as a work-related and occupational disease, in order to support workers who risk their lives daily to keep their families alive, and thereby keep the country alive.

However, without adequate safety protocols at work, immediate availability of vaccines, and a well-equipped health care system to protect the healthy and treat the sick, workers are again placed in a vulnerable position.

Workers need financial assistance that they can use to fight off infection, start over once they recover, or unburden their families of some of the cost of losing them, if they unfortunately succumb to the disease.

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), Metal Workers Alliance of the Philippines (MWAP), BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) and Nexperia Phils. Inc. Workers Union (NPIWU-NAFLU-KMU) present the following recommendations:

(1) Include jobs that carry out essential activities covered by the recognition of COVID-19 as a work-related and occupational disease. By providing essential goods and services to the public, these jobs expose their workers to numerous individuals with unknown COVID-19 status daily.

With risks associated with the type of interaction, duration of interaction and ventilation in the workplace, the following workers should be granted automatic recognition that their COVID-19 infection is occupational:

(a) Those with direct contact with the offending agent or event:
>> Workers in any healthcare setting providing face-to-face services: health care workers, admin staff, nursing aids, maintenance personnel, pharmacy and laboratory staff, security personnel, among others.
>> Contact tracers and screeners for COVID-19 symptoms
>> Personnel assigned in isolation or quarantine facilities

>> Garbage collectors, regardless of area of work

>> Those administering COVID-19 tests outside hospital settings


(b) Those who have direct interactions with various individuals

>> Service workers including those involved in accommodation and food service activities, education, arts, entertainment and recreation, activities of households as employers, delivery riders, courier services or transport of essential goods
>> Those involved in non-Covid-related face-to-face health care services such as those providing outpatient consultations, dialysis services, physical and occupational therapy, mental health services, and palliative care, including those that provide home visits.
>> Workers in government offices
>> Bank employees

>> Those who work in public transport, whether sea, land or air

>> Those who perform field work: engineers,

>> Barbers/hairdressers


(c) Those who stay in close proximity to other co-workers or clients because of the nature of their work

>> Construction industry workers

>> Manufacturing industry workers

>> Garment/retail industry workers


(d) Those who stay in enclosed spaces and perform activities that increase the release of respiratory particles for a prolonged period of time [1,2]

>> BPO workers, who talk for a long period of time

(e ) And the like

(2) Consider as compensable COVID-19 infections contracted while working from home.

Any location other than the regular workplace is considered an alternative workplace [3]. It is important to remember that (a) there is on-going community transmission of the virus in the whole country [4], (b) not all household members are working from home but all have multiple interactions with each other daily and use common areas frequently, and (c) household members need to leave the house and interact with multiple individuals for purchase of essential goods for work and for the home.

Given these factors, exposure to COVID-19 while working from home is inevitable. Contracting COVID-19 while working from home should therefore be considered work-related and compensable as well.

(3) Provide a special lane or department for processing ECC COVID-19 related benefits in the nearest ECC office.

Processing applications via the SSS/GSIS creates a bottleneck as these agencies also handle other types of benefits. By allocating a separate lane or department with adequate personnel to facilitate reviewing COVID-19 claims, outcomes of applications can be relayed faster, and benefits can be released in a timelier manner.

(4) Recognize a positive rapid antigen test result as a valid form of documentation of COVID-19 infection.

RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 remains costly and PhilHealth coverage is not enough to shoulder the cost. Due to the increased out of pocket spending, some companies opt to carry out rapid antigen tests. While not the best for diagnosis, rapid antigen tests are considered reliable in any of the following:

(a) symptomatic individuals, if done within 5-7 days of the onset of symptoms
(b) asymptomatic close contacts, if done within 4-11 days after their last exposure to the probable or confirmed COVID-19 infection

Under these conditions, a person with a positive test is already considered a confirmed COVID-19 case [5,6].

(5) Remove any limitations on the number of applications for COVID-19 claims.

 The immune response generated from a previous COVID-19 infection has been shown as long-lasting [7-9] but little is known as to how well it can protect an individual from succeeding infections. In fact, if unvaccinated, those previously infected still have twice the risk of getting infected compared to their vaccinated counterparts [10]. Their antibodies have also been seen to be less potent against newer variants [11]. And, even among those fully vaccinated, breakthrough infections are still occurring [12]. As more SARS-CoV-2 variants surface, the possibility of getting infected and re-infected also increases. Given the mutating nature of the disease, all individuals face the danger of getting infected multiple times. Therefore, regardless of the number of times a worker contracts COVID-19 infection, he or she should be eligible to apply for a claim.

(6) Establish a schedule for feedback regarding claim applications.

Our workers have been left waiting for months now for the outcome of their applications, leaving them uncertain of the next steps to take. Updating follow-up mechanisms and releasing the outcome of applications within 7 days will provide workers assurance that their claim is being processed and will allow them to immediately prepare an appeal, if needed.

The Delta variant has been declared as the dominant cause of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines [13]. It is known to be more contagious because an infected person carries 1,000 times more viral particles than when infected with previous variants [14] and can infect 5-8 people within seconds to minutes [15]. This has numerous implications for the current protocols in place in the workplace and community as transmission is expected to occur in interactions even beyond 1 meter or in less than 15 minutes [2,16]. Should our current practice fail to adapt to these changes [17], despite improving compliance, outbreaks will most likely occur.

Furthermore, the Delta variant has been seen to cause severe diseases especially in the unvaccinated [18]. Should our vaccination continue at the pace of 387, 176 jabs per day, with only around 2 million out of 35 million essential workers fully vaccinated [19], severe disease among a large fraction of workers can be expected. Given a severe disease requiring hospitalization in a health care system with at least 73% of ICU beds nationwide already occupied [20], numerous deaths can be anticipated. Multiple infections have already been recorded in several workplaces, and we should not wait until we lose more lives to this disease.

Now more than ever, the Employee Compensation Commission and the Department of Labor and Employment should ensure timely provision of COVID-19 related benefits and publish well-defined guidelines for this purpose.

References:

[1] Jones N R, Qureshi Z U, Temple R J, Larwood J P J, Greenhalgh T, Bourouiba L et al. Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19? BMJ 2020; 370 :m3223 doi:10.1136/bmj.m3223

[2] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (07 May 2021). Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 Transmission https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/sars-cov-2-transmission.html

[3] Department Order No. 202 Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 11165 Otherwise known as the “Telecommuting Act”

[4] CNN Philippines (31 August 2021). WHO confirms community transmission, dominance of Delta variant in PH. https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/8/31/Delta-variant-community-transmission-dominant-Philippines-WHO.html

[5] Health Technology Assessment Council (30 April 2021). Use of Rapid Antigen Test Kits for the Diagnosis of COVID-19 (April 2021 Assessment) https://hta.doh.gov.ph/2021/05/07/use-of-rapid-antigen-test-kits-for-the-diagnosis-of-covid-19april-2021-assessment/

[6] Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (28 May 2021). Philippine COVID-19 Living Recommendations https://www.psmid.org/philippine-covid-19-living-recommendations/

[7] Reynolds, S. (26 January 2021). Lasting immunity found after recovery from COVID-19. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/lasting-immunity-found-after-recovery-covid-19

[8] Turner, J.S., Kim, W., Kalaidina, E. et al. SARS-CoV-2 infection induces long-lived bone marrow plasma cells in humans. Nature 595, 421–425 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03647-4

[9] Abassi, J. (14 July 2021). Study Suggests Lasting Immunity After COVID-19, With a Big Boost From Vaccination. Journal of American Medical Association. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2782139

[10] Cavanaugh, A.; Spicer, K., Thoroughman, D., Glick, C., & Winter, K. (13 August 2021). Reduced Risk of Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 After COVID-19 Vaccination — Kentucky, May–June 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Center for Disease Control and Prevention

[11] Planas, D., Veyer, D., Baidaliuk, A. et al. Reduced sensitivity of SARS-CoV-2 variant Delta to antibody neutralization. Nature 596, 276–280 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03777-9

[12] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (23 August 2021). Possibility of COVID-19 Illness after Vaccination.

[13]Cabico, K. (31 August 2021). WHO says Delta variant now dominant in Philippines. PhilStarhttps://www.philstar.com/headlines/2021/08/31/2123862/who-says-delta-variant-now-dominant-philippines

[14] Viral infection and transmission in a large well-traced outbreak caused by the Delta SARS-CoV-2 variant https://virological.org/t/viral-infection-and-transmission-in-a-large-well-traced-outbreak-caused-by-the-delta-sars-cov-2-variant/724

[15] Department of Health (08 Aug 2021). What you need to know about the Delta Variant

[16] ABC News (2021). What we know about the fleeting spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Sydney. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-24/covid-delta-kappa-variant-spread-in-fleeting-moment-nsw-vic/100238680

[17] National Public Radio (27 Aug 2021). Coronavirus FAQ: How do the rules of 6 feet and 15 minutes apply to the Delta variant? https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/08/27/1031753581/coronavirus-faq-how-does-the-6-feet-15-minutes-rule-apply-to-the-delta-variant

[18] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (26 August 2021). Delta variant https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html

[19] Department of Health and National Task Force on COVID-19 (29 August 2021). Vaccine statistics

[20] Department of Health (01 Sept 2021). DOH COVID-19 Case Bulletin #536

Comprehensive Covid-19 response, not militarist lockdowns

Free, expansive, and timely testing. The government is far from reaching its testing capacity target of 100,000 tests per day with an average of 30,000-50,000 tests daily [1]. It even condones putting price caps on antigen tests and is unable to lessen the cost of RT-PCR tests in private laboratories [2-3]. With companies having different capacities to shoulder expenses but having the same responsibility to comply with protocols in order to remain operational, workers are forced to bear the costs. They are left to choose between spending almost a week’s worth of pay so they can be tested immediately or waiting in uncertainty so they can be tested for free by their LGUs. It is only when this conflict is addressed that the true extent of the infection can be visualized and control measures can be adjusted appropriately.

Swift and efficient contact tracing. This administration is able to identify only 6 contacts for every single person infected [4]. There are many reasons for this — from lack of personnel to incomplete disclosure of contacts by workers. Workers fear admitting symptoms and even infection because of the “no work, no pay” policy and possible discrimination [5]. This has led to multiple outbreaks, repeated company closures, and surges of infection in provinces. Crucial to breaking the chain of transmission is establishing the contacts among cases and placing them in quarantine before they infect others. This is especially important in workplaces with high traffic areas such as barracks/dormitories, locker rooms, canteens, bathrooms, and time-in and time-out stations that pose the threat of starting an outbreak. It is only when at least 37 contacts per infected person is traced do we stand a chance of containing COVID-19 successfully.

Urgent provision of paid pandemic leaves. Employers’ “no work, no pay” policy and contractualization schemes that are being legalized by the government have long caused workers to choose between their job or their health [6]. These forces workers to work despite being sick, and makes them hesitant to identify their close contacts, leading to multiple workplace outbreaks, company closures and even lay-offs. The legislation of House Bill 7909 or the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill aims to minimize that choice by requiring the government to uphold both workers’ jobs and health. Ensuring that financial assistance will be extended not only to those infected or tagged as close contacts but also those providing care for their sick family members and those placed on floating status, the law empowers workers to evaluate themselves truthfully and admit to having symptoms. This then paves the way for better case identification, efficient contact tracing, and successful containment of infection. The employers can also benefit from this, with less company closures, decreased cost on testing and treatment, and increased workers’ productivity. The economy can benefit from greater labor participation, continued development of skilled workers, and continued operation of businesses. With these in place, an efficient system of case identification, contract tracing, isolation, quarantine, and treatment is created, and the country can be saved from having repeated lockdowns. It is only when paid leaves are given that these positive effects are realized and optimized.

Appropriate compensation for workers infected with COVID-19. Workers daily face the risk of contracting COVID-19. The government should care for workers when they become sick — especially given its failure to protect them. While it has been difficult to claim compensation in the past year, the recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease is supposed to ease the process [7]. Three months after the release of this board resolution, however, it still has no Implementing Rules and Regulations. This has left workers and labor advocates uncertain of what to expect from this policy. Workers have been waiting for months for the result of their compensation claims. While it is difficult to pinpoint sources of infection, the hazard posed by COVID-19 cannot be easily eliminated from the workplace. The existing protocols — including personal protective equipment use — are inadequate to protect workers from getting infected. Workers should receive due compensation for contracting COVID-19 at work. This can help those previously infected to recover financially and lessen the anxiety of testing positive and the guilt of identifying contacts for tracing. These would improve infection control at work.

Immediate, organized and information-backed vaccine roll out. The government’s goal of achieving herd immunity this year will remain unattainable if deployment does not increase from the current average of 270,000 doses per day [8]. At this rate, herd immunity can be achieved only in 1.4 years[8]. In fact, out of the targeted 35.5 million frontliners in essential workers to be vaccinated, less than one million have been fully vaccinated[9]. On top of the shortage in the global supply in vaccines, concentration of the available supply in NCR, and non-compliance with the prioritization list, the shift to an online system has further made vaccines inaccessible to workers as most cannot afford gadgets or internet connection[4].The unvaccinated now run the risk not only of being infected with severe COVID-19 but also being sent to jail or kept at home [10,11]. Mandatory vaccination should be rejected and mandatory information and education campaign and informed consent must be strengthened. The country has a better chance of attaining herd immunity if it provides free and accessible vaccines to all workers regardless of job status.

Increased health care system capacity. This administration’s non-prioritization of health has forced the long-standing inadequacies of the health care system to support an impossible number of patients. The health care system has crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. The increase in bed capacity and health infrastructures without the corresponding increase in health care workers, increase and prompt pay for those in service, and on-time arrival of needed medical devices and personal protective equipment has  further demoralized healthcare workers [12-13]. The conversion of tertiary and specialty hospitals to COVID-19 referral centers and the continued decentralization of health services have displaced patients with other diseases and robbed the latter of options for care[14]. The greater budget allocation to the Department of Public Works and Highways has deprived the Department of Health of funding and pushed our health care system deeper into the grave [15]. Health is a right and it is the responsibility of the government to uphold it especially in the middle of a pandemic. While those with COVID-19 require immediate attention, the health care system should not have to choose whom it caters to. The health of all Filipinos matter, and can only be ensured if these glaring issues are corrected before we lose both our health resources and countrymen to this pandemic.

As a public health issue, the government’s pandemic response should be formulated with the participation of the public. If mutual understanding among all parties is achieved, cooperation will then follow. This will require an interdepartmental approach serving the best interest of the people. The sorry state that the country is in at present reflects the administration’s refusal to listen to the public. Those who are exposed to the problem are always the ones closest to the solution.

More than 1 million cases of COVID-19 infection later, workers are still recovering from the painful effects of this administration’s repeated lockdown schemes. The loss of 5.8 million jobs, the increase in the hunger rate to 16.8% and the increase in poor households to 49% in the past year have all left workers in fear [16-19]. This fear is magnified by Metro Manila’s return to Enhanced Community Quarantine [20]. One thing is for sure: the threat of the Delta variant and the lack of social protection caused by the government’s Bayanihan Act 3, its Covid-19 response law, is not a good combination[21,22].

References:

[1] Gonzales, C. (2021, March 30). Gov’t aims for 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day to help contain spread. Philippine Daily Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1412869/govt-aims-for-100000-covid-19-tests-a-day-to-help-contain-spread

[2] Department of Health (2021, July 27). Advisory: Price cap for COVID-19 rapid antigen testing

[3] Department of Health (2020, Nov 27). Department Circular No. 2020-0391: Price range for COVID-19 Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Reaction (RT-PCR) testing

[4] Bonquin, C. (2021, July 13). Test, trace, treat: Finding the weakest link in PH’s COVID-19 response. CNN Philippines. https://www.cnn.ph/news/2021/7/13/COVID-19-pandemic-response-Philippines-SONA-Duterte.html

[4] Kilusang Mayo Uno Press Briefing (2020, July 29). Workers react to possible hard lock down. https://fb.watch/75Fvt7qTdn/

[6] Committee on Labor and Employment (2020, Dec 11). Deliberation on House Bill No. 7909, entitled, “An Act Mandating Paid Pandemic Leaves in the Private Sector in Light of a Declared Global Pandemic”. https://fb.watch/75FqqAp7m4/

[7] Employee Compensation Commission (2021, May 4). Board Resolution No. 21-04-14

Conditions for the Compensability of COVID-19 under the ECC List of Occupational and Work-Related Disease or Annex A of the Amended Rules on Employees’ Compensation (EC).

[8] Bantay Bakuna (2021, July 25). COVID-19 vaccination tracker as of July 18, 2021.

[9] DOH, IATF, NTF Covid-19 Vaccine Statistics as of July 25, 2021

NEDA (2021, May 28) Gov’t expands A4 priority group list, vaccination rollout to focus on areas with highest risk. https://www.neda.gov.ph/govt-expands-a4-priority-group-list-vaccination-roll-out-to-focus-on-areas-with-highest-risk/

[10] CNN (2021, June 22). Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to jail those who refuse Covid-19 vaccine. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/06/21/asia/philippines-duterte-covid-vaccine-jail-intl-hnk/index.html

[11] Geducos, A. (2021, July 29). ‘Don’t go out!’ Duterte orders authorities to escort unvaccinated people home. Manilla Bulletin. https://mb.com.ph/2021/07/29/dont-go-out-duterte-orders-authorities-to-escort-unvaccinated-people-home/

[12] The Solidarity of Health Advocates and Personnel for a Unified Plan to Defeat COVID-19  (SHAPE UP) Media and Public Briefing (2021, March 16). One year into the lockdown of incompetence. https://fb.watch/75IsVEbTtQ/

[13] Coalition for People’s Right to Health Press Briefing (2021, July 30). Dapat Lapat. https://fb.watch/75IC7ARei-/

[14] Lasco, G, & San Pedro, J. (2020, June 7). The “covidization” of health care. Philippine Daily Inquirer. https://opinion.inquirer.net/130544/the-covidization-of-health-care

[15] IBON Foundation (2020, September 23). The 2021 Budget: Infrastructure over health, aid and MSME support. IBON. https://www.ibon.org/the-2021-budget-infra-over-health-aid-and-msme/

[16] IBON Foundation (2021, March 23). Unemployment at record high, worse than reported. https://www.ibon.org/a-year-after-lockdown-unemployment-at-record-high-worse-than-reported/

[17] Lalu, G. (2021, July 13).  16.8% hunger rate calls for new round of cash aid for poor – Bayan. Philippine Daily Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1459313/with-survey-revealing-high-hunger-rates-bayan-stresses-need-for-new-cash-assistance

[19] Dela Pena, K. (2021, July 14). Pandemic sinks PH poor even deeper. Philippine Daily Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1459565/pandemic-sinks-ph-poor-further

[20] Romero, A. (2021, July 31). Metro Manila back to ECQ from August 6 to 20. The Philippine Star. https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2021/07/31/2116472/metro-manila-back-ecq-august-6-20.

[21]Department of Health Press Release (2021, July 22). DOH: Government further intensifying COVID-19 response with local transmission of delta variant

[22] Bajo, A. (2021, June 29). Zarate slams Duterte admin for “sleeping” on Bayanihan 3. GMA News. https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/793347/zarate-slams-duterte-admin-for-sleeping-on-bayanihan-3/story/

Workers’ Covid-19 Vaccine Demands

WORKERS’ COVID-19 VACCINE DEMANDS

  1. Free vaccinations for all workers!

According to the Department of Labor and Employment Labor Advisory No. 03 Series of 2021 o Guidelines on the Administration of Covid-19 Vaccines in the Workplace, “No cost of vaccination in the workplace shall be charged against or passed on, directly or indirectly, to the employees.”

This means that any billing that companies make for vaccines and related processes is contrary to this Labor Advisory. Thus, we will stand for FREE any vaccination program in the workplace.

  1. Vaccines for all workers, regular and contractual!

In companies with immunization programs, there should be no room for discrimination. Regardless of the worker’s employment status, whether regular or contractual, he or she has the right to be vaccinated.

Unions must insist on including contractual workers in the company’s vaccination program.

  1. Vaccination is voluntary and should not be mandatory! Instead, information awareness and education campaigns about the vaccine should be launched in the workplace.

Assert the right of every worker to “informed consent”. Everyone has the freedom to decide on whether they will receive the vaccine or not. Workers who refuse to be vaccinated cannot be penalized or fired.

At the same time, companies should be required to conduct information awareness and education campaigns about the vaccine among workers.

  1. Paid Vaccine Leave Now! The government should allocate funds for the wages of the workers on the days of his/her vaccination!

DOLE must provide funds in the form of paid leave for workers who will be absent from work when they get vaccinated. Workers must be paid and receive wages on the days of their vaccination.

In the event that there are adverse or bad side effects from the vaccine and the worker is taken to the hospital, the government must cover the cost of treatment. Also make sure that workers recovering from the adverse side effects of the vaccine receive cash aid from the government.

**These demands were formulated and discussed during the online Workers’ Consultation (Konsultahang Manggagawa) organized by Iohsad Philippines last June 25, 2021.

#2Doses: JABS & JOBS Workers’ Education Campaign for Vaccination and Employment for All

We are thankful to Defend Jobs Philippines for reaching out and inviting us to be part of #2Doses: Jabs & Jobs, a workers’ education campaign for vaccination and employment for all.

“Amid health and economic crisis, these are the doses we need.”

Defend Jobs Philippines and the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (Iohsad) will partner in conducting the “#2Doses: Jabs and Jobs” workers education campaign for vaccination and employment for all.

The #2Doses Campaign aims to raise awareness and educate the Filipino workers on the importance and necessity to get vaccinated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also aims to challenge the government to speed-up and step-up its vaccination programs as well as to massively create decent and regular jobs for all workers.

We aim to amplify the need for vaccines and employment as key and fundamental solutions to resolve the health and economic crisis of our workers during this pandemic and national public health emergency.

For more questions and partnership, please contact us our Campaign Secretariat at 09155670410.

We also invite workers to share vaccination plans or programs in their workplaces by posting their #KwentongBakuna stories on their social media accounts or send them to bantaycovidsatrabaho@gmail.com. Your stories/questions/testimonials/suggestions will help us in designing our plans and activities for this campaign.

Maraming salamat at laging mag-iingat! Please follow our Facebook pages (Defend Jobs Philippines and Iohsad Philippines ) for our Jabs and Jobs activities and announcements.

Kwentong Covid/Kwentong Trabaho: E-book on work experiences during Covid-19 pandemic launched

An electronic book or e-book containing stories of Filipinos’ work-related experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic was launched this afternoon via Facebook and Zoom.

The e-book titled Kwentong Covid/Kwentong Trabaho is a project of workplace safety NGO Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development or IOHSAD, and gathered stories of workers, teachers, health professionals, jeepney drivers and other sectors about work during the pandemic.

It was able to gather 67 contributions consisting of essays, testimonies, short stories, poems and other forms, was edited by Teo S. Marasigan, columnist of progressive newspaper and website Pinoy Weekly, and designed by Dino Brucelas, graphic designer and instructor at the De La Salle College of St. Benilde.

“We feel that there is a need for workers and other working sectors to document their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic and for the general public to read these experiences. We have so much to learn from the plight of the country’s workers and working sectors, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic” said Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD executive director.

The contributions present not only personal stories of suffering and strength, but working people’s collective experiences and challenges – layoff, anxiety, lack of cash aid and social protection, poor working conditions, labor rights abuses brought about by the government’s inept Covid-19 response and problems in the country’s economy.

De Leon said that the idea of an e-book emerged from IOHSAD’s conversations with workers about their situation during the pandemic. “Through these stories, we better understood the situation of workers. We were able to formulate workers’ demands and calls. We were able to craft plans for collective action for workers’ health, livelihood and rights.”

“We realized that we cannot simply keep these stories in our laptop files, or make these part of social media posts which will be buried into oblivion by other posts. These stories need to be released to the public in a way that they can be retained and returned to, in a way that readers can savor every word and message,” De Leon stated. 

The e-book’s editor, meanwhile, highlighted the need for the e-book despite workplace and other stories being available on social media.

“Here, we have stories coming from ordinary Filipinos, including those who are not always on social media. These stories are not regularly provided to us by the algorithm of our social media accounts and by the powers-that-be. Here, we can focus and reflect on, and feel, narratives and analyses pertaining to a topic that’s very important to the majority of Filipinos,” he said.

The launch featured readings by some of the authors of their contributions to the collection. The following read their contributions:

>> Angela Pamaos, a college instructor from Parañaque and member of the Lapis Art Community, who wrote about her heart-breaking experiences in teaching.

>> David Michael San Juan, a professor at the De La Salle University (DLSU)-Manila and president of the Pambansang Samahan sa Linggwistika at Literaturang Filipino or PSLLF, who wrote about his experiences as a progressive educator.

>> Paul Joshua Morante, a poet and a resident of Laguna who works for a Business Process Outsourcing company, who wrote about his an experience of working from home.

>> Paul John or “PJ” Dizon, an agricultural worker from Compostela Valley and a full-time organizer of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno, who wrote about his organizing efforts amidst the pandemic.

>> Arth Jay Murillo, a writer and a spoken word artist from General Santos City who wrote about his experience of losing, and then finding, a job during the pandemic.

>> Mariz S. Autor, a graduate of the Philippine Normal University and a masters student at the DLSU, who wrote a short story about a migrant who went home to the Philippines with a mysterious disease.

>> Al Joseph Lumen, a writer based in Germany, who wrote about that country’s appreciation of health workers from the Philippines.

>> Kamz Deligente, deputy director of trade union rights NGO Center for Trade Union and Human Rights or CTUHR, who gathered the testimony of a union leader about the pandemic’s effects on both unionized and contractual workers.

>> Dr. Leonard Javier, a doctor and an activist who is a member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) and Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), who wrote about his experiences of attending to poor patients.

The e-book will feature illustrations by visual artists Melvin Pollero and Beverly Wico Sy and photos from progressive multi-media group Mayday Multimedia.

IOHSAD expressed its gratitude to all the workers and working people who sent their stories for the e-book project. For their contribution to the launch, it also thanked visual artists Ericson Caguete and Karen Mae Bengco and the NSTP class of University of the Philippines-Manila Political Science Block handled by Prof. JM Lanuza.

The e-book will be available for download on May 31 at IOHSAD’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Iohsad.Philippines.

Watch the e-book online launch via Facebook here.

Certify the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill as Urgent! Pass HB 7909 Now!

Please scan the QR code and add your signature in support of the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill or HB 7909. Thank you!

Government-funded paid leaves are essential to workers’ health and livelihood during a pandemic. We call on the legislators to certify the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill or HB 7909 and other ayuda bills as urgent.

Paid leaves eliminate the dilemma of having to choose between health and income.

Compensation mechanisms are essential for public health compliance with quarantine measures.

Paid leaves enhance the workplace.

Paid leaves revitalize the economy. 

Read the full text of IOHSAD Philippines’ position paper and support statement on the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill or HB 7909 here.

Thank you the students of MMPUBLI De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Sir Dino Brucelas and the Center for Faculty Advancement Service Learning Unit for giving us the opportunity to discuss the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill. The infographic was conceptualized and designed by Team Chroma Fusion of Sir Dino Brucelas’ MMPUBLI class.

#PaidPandemicLeaveNow#HB7909Isabatas#AyudaParaSaLahat

Workers’ pressure forced government to recognize Covid-19 as occupational disease

More than one year into the pandemic, and only after a consistent campaign waged by workers’ organizations, the Employees’ Compensation Commission has finally recognized Covid-19 as a work-related and occupational disease.

This is a small victory of the Filipino workers and workers’ organizations in the country, who had to fight, online and offline, for this most logical and human measure. Crucial to the implementation of this measure is the approval of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte of P30,000 compensation to workers. We at the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) unite with Filipino workers and workers’ organizations in calling on Pres. Duterte to approve and ensure the implementation of this measure.

We trust that Filipino workers and workers’ organizations will continue to be vigilant in keeping a close watch on, and securing the implementation of, this new government policy, and that workers will indeed benefit from it. We at IOHSAD will continue to collaborate with workers’ organizations to ensure that this will indeed be the case. At the same time, given the recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational disease, we will continue to fight for the Paid Pandemic Bill, a measure much-needed by the country’s workers at present.

This time last year during the International Workers’ Memorial Day, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the broadest alliance of workers’ organizations in the world, has called for the classification of Covid-19 as an occupational disease [1]. In the Philippines, ITUC affiliates recognized that while the disease cannot solely be contracted from the workplace, the reality is that workers face a high risk of getting infected due to working conditions. Compliance with occupational safety and health standards are often sacrificed to keep up with production and profit.

Filipino workers bore witness to the truth of this claim as multiple workplaces suffered from outbreaks last year [2-5], even with minimum health standards in place. Several factories located in special economic zones in Laguna recorded hundreds of Covid-19 positive cases last year that greatly affected workers’ health and livelihood. This situation brought more pressure on the government to classify Covid-19 as a compensable disease.

While the ECC has made Covid-19 compensable under the increased risk theory as early as February 2020 [6], workers have found it difficult to claim their benefits because of documentary requirements. It is difficult to prove that they contracted the infection at work when the country’s poor contact tracing and testing efforts have made it almost impossible to know whether any of their co-workers or any individual with whom they shared a common area are close contacts or asymptomatic yet infected. This has left much of the burden to the infected workers, who are already suffering from the disease and losing income from isolation.

Under the ECC Board Resolution No. 21-04-14, COVID-19 is considered both a work-related and occupational disease. This allows infected workers, regardless of the severity of their symptoms, to receive around Php 30,000 (pending approval by the President) if they contract the disease with any of the following conditions present [7]:

  1. A direct connection between the “offending agent or event” and the workers based on epidemiologic criteria and occupation risk (examples: health workers, contact tracing teams),
  2. The task assigned to the worker requires frequent face-to-face and proximity interactions,
  3. Transmission occurred in the workplace, and
  4. Transmission occurred while commuting to and from work.

Sources:

[1] International Trade Union Confederation (2020). COVID-19 should be classified as an occupational disease. Retrieved from https://www.ituc-csi.org/covid-19-occupational-disease

[2] San Juan, A. (2020). 4 more MRT staff have COVID-19; 202 now infected. Retrieved from https://mb.com.ph/2020/07/08/4-more-mrt-staff-have-covid-19-202-now-infected/

[3] CNN Philippines (2020). Over 300 workers in BGC construction site test positive for COVID-19. Retrieved fromhttps://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/7/10/Over-300-workers-in-BGC-construction-site-test-positive-for-COVID-19.html?fbclid=IwAR36pamrE1W0cBtZK_MX1o-qffFEv3n7ANe5sek_3cybyb1IgTkIFcNdV3Y

[4]Casilao, J. (2020). 15 companies in QC being monitored due to 280 workplace-related COVID-19 infections. Retrieved from https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/metro/748876/15-companies-in-qc-being-monitored-due-to-280-workplace-related-covid-19-infections/story/?fbclid=IwAR0nrEJa2rOEyLoSpiPmjVNz8LrYkLDkzbB1iTbM9w10Ho94_3tpMBzM3-E

[5]Datu, D. (2020). Operasyon ng kompanyasa Laguna, sinuspindesadami ng COVID-19 cases. Retrieved fromhttps://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/30/20/operasyon-ng-kompanya-sa-laguna-sinuspinde-sa-dami-ng-covid-19-cases?fbclid=IwAR2qxUw_phId9tDn_HrWIvjL7EqWYpguEIg0_-gOpAC-xnmOlOx0tOs9S6Y

[6] Employees’ Compensation Commission (2020). ECC reminds employees to be more cautious of COVID-19, apply EC benefits if applicable. Retrieved from http://ecc.gov.ph/ecc-reminds-employees-to-be-more-cautious-of-covid-19-apply-ec-benefits-if-applicable/

[7] Rey, A. (2021). Duterte asked to approve P30,000 per worker infected with COVID-19. Retrieved from

https://www.rappler.com/nation/duterte-asked-approve-compensation-per-worker-infected-covid-19

Governement ‘palpak’ in saving workers’ lives during pandemic



Workplace safety NGO Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), together with workers, teachers, artists, urban poor and health workers lit candles at home and hospitals this evening to remember those who have died due to the Covid-19 pandemic and government negligence, as well as those who have laid their lives in the cause to improve and save workers’ lives.


IOHSAD, which led in posting photos of the activity on social media, claimed that the government has failed to protect workers’ safety and health, especially during the pandemic. It said that workers bore the brunt of reviving the country’s declining economy, and workers’ safety and lives have been traded off in the name of doing business under the “new normal.”

“We remember all workers who have died saving the lives of, and providing essential services to, Filipinos. We condemn the government for failing to provide sufficient protection to our workers. At the same time, we raise the alarm on the possibility of Covid-19 outbreaks in workplaces if the government refuses to immediately act on workers’ health and safety demands,” said Nadia De Leon, IOHSAD executive director.

“The government did not only fail in protecting workers’ health and safety. It also failed to provide sufficient cash aid to workers and their families during this pandemic. Not only is this inhumane, but it also weakened the bodies of workers and their family members,” she added.

De Leon said that the issue of workers’ health and safety goes hand-in-hand with workers’ livelihood. Workers’ health has become more vulnerable to Covid-19 due to meager wages, lack of cash aid from the government, and “no work, no pay” scheme. There are numerous reports of workers who have been close contacts with confirmed Covid-19 cases and need to undergo quarantine for 14 days and have been deprived of their wages. 


“No worker should have to choose between going to work or getting hungry. Safe workplaces and paid pandemic leaves should be ensured to protect our workers’ health and safety,” she added.

The activity was held to commemorate International Workers Memorial Day, a red-letter day for workers and labor groups since 1989, which aims to remember workers who have died due to unsafe work. 

“The annual theme of International Workers’ Memorial Day, ‘Remember the dead, fight for the living,’ is most relevant as we reiterate our health and safety demands to ensure workers’ health, safety, protection and welfare,” De Leon added. 

IOHSAD enumerated Filipino workers’ occupational safety and health demands:

  • Mass testing and aggressive contact tracing in workplaces.

We cannot fight this disease blindly. We have to catch the infection at its source to contain its spread. Testing those who are symptomatic and their close contacts and finding at least 37 close contacts per positive case should be the norm.

  • Free and safe vaccines for all workers.

Workers are the bloodlines of society. To keep the economy afloat, we must keep our workers protected and alive. As we face the onslaught of this pandemic, free and safe vaccines should be ensured, and made accessible and free!

  • Cash aid for all!  (10K subsidy for the poor! P100 daily wage subsidy for workers!)

The pandemic took a lot from our people: jobs, savings, mental health, social connection and, worst of all, many of our loved ones. As prices continue to increase given the 4.5% inflation rate and wages are kept at bare minimum, we have to support those who are still with us and are trying their hardest to survive. Let us give a fighting chance to those who are in need by providing cash aid that will allows them to afford their basic needs!

  • Pass the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill Now!

A year into the pandemic, the interconnections between health and livelihood, job security and wellbeing of the economy should no longer be in question. We need to support everyone affected by the pandemic—those who got sick, their caregivers, their close contacts including those who lost their jobs permanently or temporarily. Workers need not choose between their health and livelihood or between family and the economy. To control this pandemic, we have to put all of these at the same level of priority and we can do so by providing paid pandemic leaves now!

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Remembrance and Resistance: Struggle for Health, Safety, Livelihood and Rights! (International Workers’ Memorial Day 2021 )

After more than a year of the longest lockdown in the world, Covid-19 cases in the Philippines continue to rise, peaking at 15,000 in just one day. The socio-economic conditions continue to worsen, while the country’s already weak healthcare system has completely broken down. As we near April 28 International Workers’ Memorial Day and May 1 International Labour Day, we strengthen our demands to save workers’ lives.   

The government has failed to strengthen the country’s healthcare system. Hospitals are overwhelmed and overran due to lack of facilities, equipment, and staff. Hospital beds are fully booked with Covid patients, leaving no room for other sick and even emergency cases. Last year, an estimate of 1,245 healthcare workers were infected, 27 of whom had died (21 doctors and 6 nurses). We have then demanded to fast-track and prioritize the protection of health workers and other front liners through production and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), and implementing hazard benefits and mass hiring. Yet, as of April 11 this year, the number of infected healthcare workers reached 16, 510 while a total of 86 had died.

The government has failed to protect workers’ safety and health. While countries all over the world underwent economic crisis due to work stoppage, workers bore the brunt of reviving the receding economies. In the name of doing business, workers’ safety and lives have been traded off.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) recorded 7,781 confirmed Covid cases in 2,234 workplaces. While this does not present the actual total number of infected, especially due to lack of mass testing and aggressive contact tracing, the highest recorded cases belong to regions of big labor force population. In the recent surge of Covid cases, the National Capital Region (NCR), Region IV-A, Region III and Region VII recorded the highest cases. These regions have the greatest number of manufacturing ecozones and information technology parks and centers. According the data of Department of Health (DOH), the age group 20-49 recorded the highest number of positive cases, presenting a high probability of these belonging to the labor force population.

Last year, when companies and workplaces went back to full operation, cases of Covid outbreak occurred in occupation sites such as Taguig Construction Site (300 construction workers), Metro Rail Transit (200 employees), business-processing outsource sites in different regions (415 workers), companies in special economic zones of Laguna (more than 400 workers), manufacturing company in Central Luzon (more than 200 workers), and a food manufacturing plant in Cavite (more than 700 tested positive.) For returning overseas Filipinos, a total of 16, 233 were tested positive as of April 11, fourteen of whom had died.

Amid the pandemic, workers’ health has become more vulnerable due to the economic systems in place. Without free mass testing and treatment, workers are not convinced to take the necessary measures to ensure their health and safety. This coupled with meager wages, lack of cash aid from the government, and “no work, no pay” scheme, contributes to the workers’ fear of losing daily income.

The Filipino workers continue to strengthen demands for health, safety, and social protection.  Workers’ health and safety is government responsibility, yet our own government has brought us to the brink of death due to sickness and poverty.  On this year’s International Workers’ Memorial Day, also known as World Day for Safety and Health, we remember those who have died due to the pandemic and government negligence, those who have laid their lives in the cause to improve and save workers’ lives. We mourn the dead, consolidate our ranks, and collectively demand:

  1. Mass testing and aggressive contact tracing in workplaces!
  2. Free and safe vaccine for all workers!
  3. Classify Covid-19 as an occupational disease!
  4. Cash aid for all!
  5. Pass the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill now!

Join the national day of action on April 28, 2021. Wear black shirt and join the social media protest by posting on your individual and organizational social media pages with our demands. At 6:00 PM, join the nationally coordinated candle lighting protest in your homes or offices, and post photos or videos on your pages. These activities will serve as build up actions for the upcoming Labour Day.

Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living! Save Workers’ Lives!

Occupational Safety and Health is a Fundamental Right!

Workers’ Safety from Covid-19 is Government Responsibility!

#IWMD2021

#SaveWorkersLives