Palace eyes four-day workweek, flexi-work
The private sector, Nograles added, can implement the same scheme to avoid job losses as part of efforts to help businesses and industries cope with the impact of the outbreak on their operations.
Geremy Pintolo/File
Palace eyes four-day workweek, flexi-work
Christina Mendez, Marc Jayson Cayabyab (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2020 - 12:00am

No Metro Manila classes; no lockdown

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is looking at allowing government workers to have a four-day workweek and flexi-work arrangements as part of measures aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles said yesterday.

The private sector, Nograles added, can implement the same scheme to avoid job losses as part of efforts to help businesses and industries cope with the impact of the outbreak on their operations.

“As far as the Civil Service is concerned, they are discussing the adoption of a four-day workweek as one of the measures that the Civil Service can do in terms of government workers,” he said.

Nograles said the proposal came after President Duterte ordered the suspension of classes in the National Capital Region (NCR) from March 10 to 14 as cases of transmission, especially in Metro Manila, ballooned.

Nograles, a member of the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease, said the suspension of classes in NCR could be extended or lifted based on developments this week.

As far as employees in the private sector are concerned, Nograles said the Department of Labor and Employment recently issued a labor advisory that regulates flexi-work arrangements.

The point of the advisory is “to discourage businesses from laying off and retrenching workers and adopting a flexi-work arrangement instead,” he said.

The flexi-work strategy can be applied to the tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the outbreak.

In an interview, Nograles said the government has also been urging the private sector to avoid laying off workers, given the temporary nature of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At one point we will be able to control this. So what’s happening now in the tourism and travel industry would be considered temporary; because it’s temporary we don’t need to retrench or fire workers,” he said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said Metro Manila is ready for a lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, but not at the moment.

“We are prepared in the event of a lockdown. We have the police and the armed forces. As much as possible, we have to contain the virus. Our country is not so much high tech as other countries,” Año said at a meeting of the Metro Manila Council at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) yesterday.

He said there is no need for a lockdown for now because the country is just under code red sublevel 1.

A lockdown will only be imposed if the code red is elevated to sublevel 2 in the event of continued community transmission of the disease, Año said.

Año said the worst-case scenario is a lockdown for 14 days covering the incubation period of the virus.

“Possible or probably, we will impose the lockdown for 14 days because that is the incubation time of the virus, so within that period you can prevent its spread,” he said.

He also urged the private sector to require “social distancing” among employees, specifically by allowing them to work from home.

Metro Manila mayors agreed a lockdown is an extreme measure, but suspending classes at all levels until the end of the week and cancelling city events that draw crowds are justifiable.

“I think the lockdown is an extreme measure. We are not there yet. What we did is to suspend classes so that the kids are grounded at home,” Makati Mayor Abigail Binay said.

While school graduations may push through, students who are sick would be required to stay home instead, Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said.

“If necessary, we think we should take that into serious consideration. The lockdown may not necessarily cover the whole region so as not to paralyze the whole Metro Manila,” Teodoro said.

But other mayors ruled out localized lockdown. They said they agreed during a meeting with President Duterte on Monday night that Metro Manila should be considered as a single cluster in case of a total lockdown.

“Lockdown is still out of the question at this point… What we talked about is to consider Metro Manila as one big area. Most of the mayors agreed to consider the metro as a big cluster,” said San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora.

There are five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Juan, including a man who frequented a prayer hall in the city, Zamora said.

Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez revealed meeting with health officers of Philippine offshore gaming operators in the city to ensure that their Chinese workers do not have the virus. The city has 14 persons under investigation for the disease, he added.

MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia said the public should not panic as low fatality rate of the disease does not merit the need for a lockdown.

“We are preparing for the worst. But we do not want to cause panic. That’s why our mayors attended because they want guidance on addressing this,” Garcia said.

The MMDA will also consider postponing the Summer Metro Manila Film Festival if the spread of the disease continues by next month, Garcia added.

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