Postlockdown target: 1M new jobs, safety nets

By: Leila B. Salaverria - Philippine Daily Inquirer | May 01,2020 - 06:21 AM

Senators are proposing more protection for the nation’s labor force as the government gears for a reopening of some areas in the country and allow workers to return to their jobs following the lockdown imposed to contain the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said the government would unveil a recovery plan for the country’s labor sector on Friday, Labor Day, but he did not provide details of the plan.

The Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) also on Thursday said it had prepared a stimulus package to create 1 million new jobs in villages around the country by pushing the government’s public works program to hire workers within the locations of infrastructure projects.

In her “Balik Trabahong Ligtas” bill she filed this week, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said workers would get mandatory life and health insurance coverage against infectious diseases during a public health emergency declared by the government and for one year after it is lifted.

The proposed law aims to protect workers who become vulnerable to “infectious diseases and other hazards” as they put themselves and their loved ones at risk when they head for work daily, she said.

“Nobody must be forced to choose between dying from an infectious disease or dying from hunger,” Hontiveros said.

The measure covers all contractual, contract of service, probationary and job order employees who are asked to report to work outside of their homes during a health emergency.

Life insurance

Under Senate Bill No. 1441, the group life insurance provides a minimum of P1 million to the beneficiary if a worker dies from the infectious disease or complications arising from it.

Workers would be entitled to full payment of their medical bills if they are sickened by the infectious disease, Hontiveros said. They would be presumed to have contracted the infection in the course of their work and would not be required to present proof of this, she added.

The measure directs Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to institutionalize a special program for the full payment of workers’ medical bills. Employers will shoulder the insurance premium payments, which should not be deducted from workers’ wages.The bill states that employers who would require workers to work outside their homes should provide them with personal protective equipment, based on the nature of their jobs and the risks they face.

Marcos proposal

“It is important that we set these safeguards in place as we transition out of a full lockdown into the ‘new normal,’ and as we strive to balance the requirements of public health and the needs of the economy and the labor force,” Hontiveros said.In a separate bill she filed earlier, Sen. Imee Marcos proposed a direct government wage subsidy equivalent to 75 percent of the actual payroll costs of the affected businesses in the hardest-hit sectors.

Economic recovery package

Marcos’ proposal is part of Senate Bill No. 1431 to provide an economic recovery package for these businesses.

According to her, an estimated 1 million micro, small and medium enterprises would be unable to resume operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was very important to save them.

Her proposed wage subsidy would cost P63 billion a month. She said the government could afford this, though she did not say how many months or years the subsidy would be given.

The bill sets zero tariff rates on essential imported raw materials, and suspends all deadlines for payments due within the enhanced community quarantine period.

Dole goal

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III promised “fresh 1 million jobs” to workers displaced during the lockdown in the provinces.

He said the new jobs would be linked to projects under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which he urged to increase its hiring for public infrastructure projects by at least 10 percent.

It was unclear, however, if the new jobs could contain the economic fallout from COVID-19, after the Dole reported on Sunday that more than 2 million lost work from the temporary closure of businesses during the first five weeks of the enhanced community quarantine. That figure would be updated and could still swell.

The P25-billion stimulus package, known as the Barangay Emergency Employment Program (BEEP), is geared toward creating jobs in villages, Bello said.

Under the plan, DPWH contractors would be required to hire additional personnel for existing projects. New hires could account for as much as 20 percent of the current workforce for the project. They should reside in the community where a project was being executed.Bello said the plan was submitted to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease, which directs government efforts against COVID-19.

Mass hiring of nurses

It would require convincing contractors to invest in manpower rather than additional equipment, said former Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, who helped devise the program.

Under BEEP, wage subsidies will be provided for a three-month period to micro and small-scale enterprises in the provinces.

The Dole said it would also hire 5,000 new graduates and nurses who passed the board to carry out the government’s occupational safety and health program for the postlockdown environment. They will be assisted by 15,000 nurse assistants trained by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority who had lost their jobs abroad due to the pandemic. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO

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