PThe Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), an independent labor rights organization based in Quezon City would like to manifest our strong support for the House Bill 7909 or the Paid Pandemic Leave Bill authored by Representatives from Gabriela Women’s Party, Bayan Muna Partylist, Kabataan Partylist and ACT Teachers Partylist. 

The workers are one of the most vulnerable sectors worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions have been displaced from their jobs, incomes were reduced and lives are put at risk. Amid all these, the prices of commodities continue to rise and government assistance remains slow and inadequate.

At present, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has reached 445,540 based on data from the Department of Health (DOH). Although there is no aggregate data available on the number of COVID-19 cases among workers, we have been able to document cases of local transmission in the workplace such as those in Nidec Philippines, Interphil, Nexperia in Laguna and Deluxe Bags in Tarlac.  

Clearly, workers are in the frontlines of our economy. They are facing daily risk of contracting COVID 19 and the provision of paid pandemic leave is necessary to protect and ensure the health and safety of workers against COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases. 

Most workers, especially contractuals are under the ‘No work, no pay’ scheme. Existing laws only mandate a 5-day Service Incentive Leave which is clearly not enough for the quarantine necessary for COVID-19 cases. Even so, not all workers enjoy this benefit. 

Provision of paid pandemic leave can help protect the workers from COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplaces and also in the communities. There will be less likelihood of outbreaks of pandemic in a workplace if workers can be relieved of economic burden whenever when get symptoms or get exposed to an infected co-worker. 

It is the government’s responsibility to protect and promote the people’s right to health, including workers who are integral to the economy. It must allocate enough funds to advance all necessary measures to ensure their protection. 

Amid the pandemic, the government must allocate funds to programs that will mitigate the economic and health impact of the pandemic. Budget for the improvement of health services should be prioritized and increased, so as the budget for the provision of assistance for displaced and affected workers, as well as, for small and medium enterprises. 

Despite the millions of funds reallocated for the Bayanihan 1 and 2 and debts incurred amid this pandemic, we believe that more can be done to set the government’s priorities on track in combating the health, economic and social impacts of this crisis to the people. 

In particular, we manifest strong criticism on the allocation of a huge chunk of the Php4.5 trillion 2021 National Budget to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) instead of putting more funds to the Department of Health (DOH) which should be at the forefront of our government’s COVID-19 response. 

Moreover, CTUHR sees that it is unreasonable for the government to allocate a whooping Php19 billion budget for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which, in the past months, has been controversial for peddling fake news and red-tagging legitimate and legal organizations, activists and government critics, resulting to worsening human rights situation in the country. 

In fact, yesterday, on the International Day of Human Rights, 6 labor organizers and 1 journalist were arrested in simultaneous raids and trumped-up charges were filed against them. 

We are convinced that the government has enough funds to provide social protection to workers and their families during this pandemic. Moreover, the economic gain as well as the savings on possible costs brought about workplace or community outbreaks that can be prevented by the possible impact of this legislation will only outweigh the government spending that this legislation will entail. 

In this regard, we strongly recommend the full and immediate passage into law of House Bill 7909 or Paid pandemic leave bill.#