Labor group asks gov’t: Give free COVID-19 vaccine to workers

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 17 2020 03:37 PM | Updated as of Dec 17 2020 09:18 PM

Labor group asks gov’t: Give free COVID-19 vaccine to workers 1
A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, United Kingdom, December 8, 2020. Frank Augstein/Pool via Reuters

MANILA – The country’s largest labor organization on Thursday appealed to government to include workers in its vaccination program against COVID-19, which officials are eyeing to start next year.

Allan Tanjusay, spokesperson of the Associated Labor Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said his group is now discussing and finalizing its request to government to look after the safety of the country’s labor force.

“We’re going to propose to the government. If we have already acquired a safe and affordable vaccine, siguro (probably) we will need for the inclusion of workers,” Tanjusay told ABS-CBN News.

“After these priorities na mababakunahan, siguro ihihirit namin na dapat kasama na rin 'yung mga manggagawa, lalong-lalo na 'yung mga manggagawang nasa agriculture sector, manufacturing at services na very essential,” said Tanjusay, whose group represents some 1.7 million workers.

(After these priority sectors are vaccinated, we’ll ask to include workers, especially those in the agriculture sector, manufacturing and services that are very essential.)

Tanjusay said workers in these three sectors are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, given their frequent exposure to public places, and that they can be “spreaders” of the respiratory illness.

That’s why inoculating workers with the vaccine is also an effective way to ensure steady economic activity, Tanjusay said.

If funding is short to include workers in the vaccination program, government can at least require employers to either shoulder or share in the expense, he added.

“If we want to recover, if we want to go back to the way we were before, kailangan talaga malusog at safe ‘yong mga manggagawa laban sa coronavirus,” he said.

(If we want to recover, if we want to go back to the way we were before, we really need to have our workers healthy and safe from the coronavirus.)

Tanjusay also lamented reports that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had supposedly failed to work on the necessary documentary requirements for the Philippines’ COVID-19 vaccine deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

“We really hope na ‘yong mga barriers na ito lalong-lalo na ‘yong mga internal politics eh ma-resolve at ma-set aside… Dapat alisin na 'tong mga internal dynamics dahil nakakasagabal ito sa ating economic recovery,” he said.

(We really hope that these barriers, especially internal politics, are resolved and set aside… We should remove these internal dynamics because these are hindrances in economic recovery.)

A long delay in inoculating the public is “costly and significant,” he added.

Sen. Joel Villanueva shared the same sentiment.

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, said minimum wage earners should be included in the priority list.

" 'Yung napag-uusapan natin ngayon, we don't have problems when we talk about health workers at mga kapulisan but not so much talking about 'yung bumubuhay sa atin 'yung mga minimum wage earners na bumubuhay sa ating ekonomiya," he said in an interview on Teleradyo . 

"If we want to talk about bringing our economy back to recovery dapat iyan iniisip din natin."

(We all talk about inoculating health workers and the police force but not so much about our minimum wage earners who are spurring our economy. If we want to talk about bringing our economy back to recovery we should also prioritize them.)

He said there are 22.76 million or 57.2 percent of the 39.8 million employed workers belonging to the services sector. 

Villanueva said the government should be able to identify the minimum wage earners in that sector who should benefit from the COVID-19 vaccine.

Malacañang earlier said frontline health workers, senior citizens, indigent Filipinos and uniformed personnel are among those considered “sectoral priorities” for government’s initial COVID-19 vaccine drive.

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Meanwhile, areas with high COVID-19 cases such as Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Davao are “geographical priorities,” the Palace said.

In late November, the Philippine government and private firms inked a supply agreement for British drug group AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. 

Under the deal, the private firms will pay for the vaccines and donate half of the supply to the government, with the other half to be used for employees in the private sector.

As of Wednesday, the Philippines has logged a total of 452,988 confirmed COVID-19 cases.