Why it’s important for workers to see COVID-19 declared an occupational disease

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 21 2020 10:59 PM

MANILA — A workers’ rights group said the government should declare COVID-19 an occupational disease to allow employees to be compensated if they are infected at the workplace.

“If COVID-19 is recognized as an occupational disease workers can receive compensation and it will remove the burden of having to prove that it is a work-related disease,” Nadia de Leon, executive director of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) said during a virtual briefing Wednesday. 

Under the Department of Labor and Employment’s employees’ compensation program, certain diseases can be compensable if working conditions involve the risk of developing the illness, such as through exposure to chemicals or taking care of patients. The program specifies the conditions that should be present that allows the employee to claim compensation.

De Leon also called for paid quarantine leave and hazard pay for workers who are now being asked to return to work amid the modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other areas in the country.

De Leon was among the worker representatives who spoke at the forum organized by Citizens’ Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), in which various workers’ concerns on the back-to-work guidelines of government were discussed.

“Workers are risking their lives by going back to work. How can they be sure that they are safe from being infected if there is no assurance that their health will be monitored, mass testing will be conducted, and prevention measures will be strictly implemented in workplaces?” she said in a statement released after the forum.

She and the other worker representatives questioned the DOLE’s decision to suspend labor inspections during the community quarantine.

“These issuances clearly show the government’s gross neglect of workers’ health and safety,” she said.

But what is more worrisome, De Leon said, was Labor Advisory No. 17, which allow the adjustment of workers’ wages and benefits.

“The government should take firm steps to eliminate the virus and not take away workers’ hard-earned wages and benefits. Wage cuts during pandemic will result in hungry and unhealthy workers vulnerable to the disease,” she said.

Debbie Faigmani, of the Wyeth Philippines Progressive Workers Union, said during the forum that premium pay was already removed because of the said advisory.

De Leon said the removal of subsidies and the adjustment of pay would just make it hard for workers to stay health amid the pandemic.