“Workers’ groups and advocates have not been remiss in making concrete and constructive proposals to the government, but it has been deaf and blind to such proposals.”
By JUSTIN UMALI
SANTA ROSA, Laguna – Despite Laguna’s position as a center of industrial activity in the country, risk of COVID-19 infection runs high in its economic zones, according to workplace safety NGO Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOSHAD).
“Some companies in economic zones were forced to shut down because infection has spread among their workers,” the group added. Laguna is home to 21 economic zones, mostly concentrated in the cities of Santa Rosa, Biñan, and Calamba.
The Department of Health reports that as of August 10, there are 4,133 active cases in Laguna alone, accounting for 55 percent of all total cases. The Laguna Provincial Health Office, meanwhile, cites 2,057 active cases as of August 9, and 4,126 total cases.
Data from volunteer relief organization Serve the People Corps (STPC) Laguna also indicated that the cities of Santa Rosa, Calamba, and Biñan have the top three highest number of active cases in
Government’s ‘lax policies’ to blame
According to IOHSAD Executive Director Nadia de Leon, the government’s “lax policies on COVID-19 mass testing, prevention and control, made even worse by the suspension of labor inspections, were the perfect ingredients for a full-blown workplace health disaster.”
She added that three factors contributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases among workers: the small number of workers being tested daily, ineffective contact-tracing, and the practice of only testing symptomatic workers while ordering workers exposed to suspect cases to undergo home quarantine without rt-PCR (swab) testing.
On August 7, Laguna Governor Ramil Hernandez announced through Facebook some measures being done by the provincial government to “continue the fight against COVID-19,” such as ensuring the compliance of industrial companies and technoparks to health protocols, the creation of an isolation facility inside Laguna Technopark Association, Inc. (LTI) in Biñan/Santa Rosa, and closer coordination with industrial parks and areas under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
But IOHSAD call these measures “too little and too late,” pointing out that so far, the local government has only inspected 73 factories or three percent of the province’s 2,428.
Research and workers’ rights group Southern Tagalog Education for Workers’ Advocacy, Research, and Development’s (STEWARD) COVID-19 Labor Watch also noted that “workers are being forced to endure risks due to the lack of adequate government assistance to cater to their needs during the pandemic.”
Last July 30, they reported that 290 employees of Nidec Philippines tested positive in rt-PCR tests. They also noted that Nidec management had no plans for them apart from a 24-hour temporary shutdown to make way for a general disinfection.
STEWARD also noted that there were positive cases of COVID-19 in Gardenia Bakeries Philippines, Inc., F. Tech Philippines Manufacturing, Inc., Alaska Milk Corporation, Coca-Cola FEMSA Santa Rosa, Imasen Philippine Manufacturing Corporation, Technol Eight Philippines Corporation, Optodev Inc., Interphil Laboratories, Edward Keller Philippines, Toshiba Philippines, and Nexperia Philippines.
Concrete solutions for workers
IOHSAD reiterated their call for free mass testing, subsidies to “companies, especially small and medium enterprises,” to ensure health standards are met, immediate assessment of all workers to determine who should undergo rt-PCR testing, creation of isolation centers, resumption of workplace inspections from the Labor Department, putting medical professionals in charge of the COVID-19 response, and classifying COVID-19 as an occupational disease.
“We have been calling for these measures since May. Workers’ groups and advocates have not been remiss in making concrete and constructive proposals to the government, but it has been deaf and blind to such proposals,” said De Leon.
STEWARD also stressed the need for “regular disinfection in the workplace, health and safety needs for workers such as PPE and vitamins, sanitation booths at factory entrances and exits, and door-to-door transport service” to drastically reduce the risk of COVID-19.
The research firm also stressed the need for financial assistance from Department of Labor and Employment. Last August 3, the group, along with union leaders from the Southern Tagalog region, filed a petition with DOLE asking for a P 10,000 cash assistance for workers disenfranchised during the pandemic.
IOHSAD also noted that income subsidies “will drastically lessen workers’ burden and anxiety during these challenging times.”
“Many workers report to work and risk their health and safety, despite the high risk of getting infected and sick, because of the ‘no work, no pay’ schemes,” said De Leon.
STPC Laguna questioned the Duterte administration’s assertions that there “is no money.” “How can there be no money when the administration has borrowed over 2 trillion pesos over the past five months?” Jaspher Aquino, STPC Laguna spokesperson, asked.
“The P140 million allotted by the Bayanihan 2 [Bayanihan Recover as One] Law is scarcely enough for one province, let alone for an entire nation,” he added.