By KAILA MARIE ALFORTE
MANILA — For a 27-year-old worker in the Business Process Outsourcing industry, Rhea Bagacay is faced with the need to present a vaccination card whenever she needs to enter an establishment and later on in entering her workplace.
Rhea has doubts about getting vaccinated and she feels that her right is being violated when her movement is restricted if she would choose not to get vaccinated, even expressing her anxiety and fear on the possibility of losing her job.
“Though the government doesn’t mandate everyone to get the vaccine, it seems that we’re unable to enter establishments without presenting vaccination cards,” Bagacay, who is the family’s breadwinner, told Bulatlat.
The Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CRPH) clarified in an August 12 statement that while access to vaccination is a person’s right, information and consent are necessary.
“It is still a violation of one’s human right to force anyone to get vaccinated, so much more when this is used against their right to work or to travel,” the official statement read.
In a televised meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) last November 29, President Duterte expressed his support for the possible decision of the task force for mandatory vaccination.
“As a worker of government also in charge of the overall operations of the government, I may agree with the task force if they decide to make it mandatory. It’s for public health,” Duterte said.
“Under the police power of the state, I can compel you,” he added.
On Dec. 1, the House Committee on Labor and Employment called for the suspension of the two resolutions pushing for mandatory vaccination in the Philippines. These, they said, are anti-worker.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) Resolution No. 148-B mentioned that in areas where there are sufficient supplies of COVID-19 vaccines as determined by the National Vaccines Operation Center (NVOC), all establishments and employers in the public and private sector shall require their eligible employees who are tasked to do on-site work to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those who will refuse will be subjected to undergo an RT-PCR test, with workers shouldering the cost.
IATF Resolution 149 meanwhile states that the tests should be done regularly – once every two weeks or as determined by one’s employer.
The Philippine government began its vaccine rollout on March 2021, with a target of 77 million fully vaccinated Filipinos by the end of the year. However, as of December 3, 2021, government data showed that only 37,568,088 Filipinos have been fully vaccinated.
Among the regions with low vaccination rates are the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Davao Region, Northern Mindanao, and Soccsksargen.
“As of now, we do not have enough vaccine supply. Secondly, the testing cost will be shouldered by workers. We believe this is an added burden to ordinary folk,” said Bayan Muna. Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, adding that it is in violation of the country’s labor law.
Last March 12, DOLE’s Labor Advisory No. 3 Series of 2021 required establishments and employers to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, and those who refuse or fail to get the vaccine shall not be discriminated against. It also reiterated that the ‘no vaccine, no work’ policy is not allowed.
When the House Committee on Labor and Employment convened on Dec. 7 to discuss anew the ‘no vaccination, no work policy,’ lawmakers moved to write another letter to the IATF-EID to compel them to attend the next meeting, reiterating their call to suspend the two resolutions that mandated COVID-19 vaccination among workers.
“This is going to be an added burden to workers. They are already earning a pittance and the cost of the RT PCR testing will be further deducted,” Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (Iohsad) Executive Director Nadia De Leon told Bulatlat.
For IOHSAD, strengthening the companies’ Occupational Safety and Health committees is necessary for a safe return to workplaces. OSH Committees can do their jobs of conducting programs that would ensure the safety and health of the workers if they undergo extensive training, have enough information materials, and receive support from government institutions like DOLE. The organization reiterated its importance especially with the ever-changing information about COVID-19.
“Provide a comprehensive plan to control the pandemic. Vaccination is merely part of it, it is just one step. It is not a substitute for testing, contact tracing, and the allotment of enough facilities for isolation and quarantine, and in providing a cure,” Camille Cruzada, also of IOHSAD, added.
Need to work
Despite the fear of being infected with COVID – 19 and the struggles with public transportation, Bagacay continued working on-site amid high cases of COVID-19 last year. As the family’s breadwinner, she had no choice.
The latest Labor Force Survey from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed an increase in the unemployment rate, from 3.07 million in July to 3.5 million unemployed Filipinos in October.
Bagacay said that starting this month, their company will be requiring them to present vaccination cards before entering their workplace.
Mylene Cabalona, president of BPO Industry Employees Network said that there is an ongoing signature campaign to call for the suspension of IATF Resolution 148-B. As of Dec. 12, the petition has 12,683 signatures.
“If this would cause termination of workers, we will fight for it and file a labor case if need be. Pushing against ‘no vax, no work’ should not be a cause for one’s termination from work,” Cabalona added. (JJE, RTS)