Groups slam 'grossly anti-poor' measures for labor during Metro Manila lockdown

MANILA, Philippines – Labor groups have slammed what they called inadequate government measures to cushion the impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak on workers' livelihood and income.

In a statement on Saturday, March 14, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) said the recommendation of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to reduce work hours and work days through the enforcement of a rotational workforce would hurt no-work-no-pay workers the most.

They also chided Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez for suggesting that workers who live outside the region should just rent a place in Metro Manila.

BMP called such measures "inconsiderate, grossly anti-poor, and arithmetically improbable."

"To take away our measly incomes for an entire month or ask us to make good with so little is already lethal if not fatal to our well-being,” said BMP vice president Dominic Dilao.

DOLE had recommended the flexible work arrangement in preparation for the Metro Manila lockdown which begins on Sunday, March 15. 

Malacañang had clarified that those who have work in Metro Manila are exempted from the travel restriction, but they would have to present a valid work IDs or to proof of employment. 

DOLE said in a new guideline on Saturday that manufacturing, retail and service establishments are "advised" to stay open during the lockdown, but they must observe social distancing and other safety and health measures.

The BMP said this could potentially expose workers to the new coronavirus, as many factories have poor sanitation, and with no running water.

The BMP demanded employers to provide free testing kits to their workers. The Department of Health (DOH) said that the COVID-19 test kit developed by scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP), which gives faster results and are cheaper, may be rolled out on Monday, March 16.

“We have toiled so much and are solely responsible for the profits and success of companies, it's about time we are paid back as part of our fair share of the pie during these trying times,” said Dilao.

No word from management

Labor group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said workers, both unionized and non-unionized, have come to them complaining that their company managements have yet to issue coronavirus protocols.

"Rank-and-file employees wonder why their employers delay or ignore discussions about workplace policy toward a likely lockdown," said TUCP president Raymond Mendoza. 

In the DOLE guideline, those who will file for leaves of absence over COVID-19 would lose actual leave credits.

Mendoza said DOLE must hold a dialogue with workers to come up with beneficial policies.

"The DOLE must step in and not allow dissension swell among the ranks. They must push the employees and employers formulate viable and acceptable mechanics unique to their industry and line of business in keeping productivity competitive without diminution of wages and benefits on the part of workers," Mendoza said.

Unemployment benefit

Meanwhile, Surigao sel Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel said those who have been retrenched because of the economic impact of the coronavirus may avail of the unemployment insurance benefit by the Social Security System (SSS).

SSS can provide a one-off unemployment insurance benefit that's equivalent to his or her average monthly salary. (FAST FACTS: What is the SSS unemployment benefit?)

“The financial aid may not be much, but it will help. And the benefit is a handout. It is not a loan. The laid off worker does not have to pay it back,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel said this covers even overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) – particularly those working at cruise ships – whose contracts were cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.