‘No work, no pay’ laborers trudge despite virus threat

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2020 11:09 PM

MANILA--Wary shoppers rushed with carts filled to the brim at a Quezon City supermarket Monday afternoon, as news went around of an impending large-scale quarantine of the entire Philippine island of Luzon to contain a fast-spreading coronavirus.

It’s a privilege parking attendant Benjamin Christopher, 53, didn’t have as he guided vehicles outside the grocery, a job that could earn him some P600 on a good day.

But it's not always the case and what he usually earns is barely enough for his wife and 3 young children, he said, wondering how they would get by with most establishments shut down during the month-long quarantine.

The prospects could be worse for the poorest of the poor, who will be confined to home quarantine unless they had to go out to buy food and for other essentials.

To minimize exposure to the new coronavirus, families were told to assign a representative, who would purchase groceries good for a week, an arrangement that might not work for those whose meals depend on whether they had income for the day.

“If those people are made to stay home due to the quarantine, they will most likely need support and social safety nets,” professor Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Manila-based Ateneo School of Government, told ABS-CBN News.

“Otherwise they will continue to try to seek work.”

NO WORK, NO PAY

Which apparently happened the morning after President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he was expanding the initial Metro Manila-wide quarantine to cover the rest of Luzon.

Workers clogged border checkpoints trying to enter Metro Manila. Within the capital region, others also took a chance even if mass transportation was suspended.

“They face ‘no work, no pay’ conditions, so they will likely comply with the quarantine only if their incomes are somehow guaranteed,” Mendoza said, citing the predicament of those in the informal sector comprising around 16 million of the country’s workforce.

These include street vendors and pedicab drivers, who enjoy no “adequate social protection,” which could come in the form of “unconditional cash transfers, subsidies on essential goods and tax payment rescheduling, or outright relief,” he said.

All these, he said, were meant to “stretch the purchasing power of already cash-strapped households” now forced to go in quarantine.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

The government has announced measures to assist such families, with the president reminding local governments to provide food relief with help from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

A P27.1-billion funding will also be made available to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on workers, especially those in the tourism industry, which was heavily hit by the massive drop in tourist arrivals.

In Congress, a number of legislators have filed bills pushing for various amounts of stimulus packages, including one worth P108 billion proposed by Marikina Rep, Stella Quimbo.

Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’s proposal pools an additional P23 billion for workers and businesses affected by the spread COVID-19, which has infected 187 people as of Tuesday.

Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the ways and means committee, said his office did the math and projected that the Luzon lockdown “will prevent up to 26,500 more infections by May 4.”

Without the measure, mass transmission of the coronavirus would shave 4.13 percent off the GDP, while a lockdown would decrease it by 2.95 percent, he said.

“It saves lives and saves the economy,” Salceda said in a statement, describing the lockdown as both game-changing and life-saving.”