Pro-poor policies, clearer guidelines on lock down to overcome COVID-19

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Labor NGO Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) calls on the government to implement pro-poor policies and clearer guidelines as the month-long lock down continues.

According to EILER, the Duterte administration has taken measures focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19, but the policies and guidelines remain lacking, unclear, and insensitive to the extremely vulnerable conditions of the poor. Further, the measures focused strictly and solely on movement of the people, leaving out vital scientific and medical aspects that  would effectively control the impact of the virus while guaranteeing livelihood and survival of the poor.

“Measures taken by the Duterte administration center on restriction of movement. The ill-announced lock down of National Capital Region, now expanded to the entire island of Luzon, and the subsequent suspension of public transport which in turn, paralyzes the livelihood of the 3.67 million poor in Luzon inevitably put the poor in a more vulnerable situation. Community quarantine is necessary but to what extent remains unclear and certain considerations were missed,” EILER Executive Director Rochelle Porras lamented.

EILER urged the government to consider four main points towards a comprehensive and more inclusive approach to combat the threat of COVID-19.

Early detection and treatment for free. First, priority should be on early detection and treatment of the disease, both of which should be free of charge, in order to make screening and treatment of the virus universally available, especially for the poor. Funds could be made instantly available from the 2020 budget such as with the existing P13 billion contingency fund and P16 billion National Disaster Risk Reduction Management fund to help increase the slashed 2020 budget of the Department of Health (DoH), on top of the P27.1 billion package to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Guaranteed income. Secondly, the private sector and government have to guarantee the continued payment of the workers’ wages affected, as is being done in Pasig City and by some private companies. Other arrangements such as early release of 13th month pay and access to SSS unemployment benefits must be easily accessible. Health workers and other frontliners who have shown amazing efforts to cope with the crisis despite the lack of prior support should be compensated well with immediate provision of hazard pay. Because of understaffing, health workers and other frontliners are also overworked and more prone to being infected. Free long-term care and mental health assessment should be in place. The government must also lay out concrete and inclusive economic stimulus plan to ensure economic recovery of micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs).

Immediate food supply to the poor, transport workers and informal workers. Third, the government has to take several measures to support the poor, transport workers affected due to public transport suspension, and informal workers to overcome this COVID-19 by ensuring food supply, providing free nutritious food packages to poor communities, and making basic necessities available at reduced prices. Instead of DSWD’s ill-conceived suspension of its services to indigents, financial support to the poor should be doubled and made more accessible, as the government can re-allocate intelligence and confidential funds and channel them to the informal sector. Private corporations have to do their part as in 2017, they amassed a total of P1.2 trillion in profits in NCR alone.

Uphold freedom of association, collective bargaining rights and OSH. Finally, there should be no compromise to labor rights. Notably, the government embraced an overly militaristic approach instead of deploying more health workers during these critical times, affecting not just physical movement, but also suppressing workers mobilizations and grievances. All workers have the right to know and to demand their employer’s policy as regards the pandemic. There should be no barrier for unions to exercise their CBAs. Safe and healthy workplaces should be guaranteed at all times since skeletal workforce is still in place in all industries. The government and businesses should provide for free all necessary PPEs such as approved N-95 respirators to frontline workers and the skeletal workforce in all workplaces across all industries.

“While addressing the pandemic, the government should respond responsibly and quickly make available funds and programs to strengthen medical, economic and social measures, prioritizing the health and livelihood of the most vulnerable,” Porras concluded.

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