Government encourages COVID-19 testing for employees every quarter

Valenzuela Health Worker wears full transparent face mask at McArthur Highway boundary of Valenzuela, Bulacan during the implementation of community quarantine last March 15, 2020.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — With tighter lockdowns in main economic hubs set to be lifted soon, the Duterte administration is counting on the private sector to ensure workplace safety as employees prepare to return to work, including shouldering the cost of testing for staff.

"Employers are highly encouraged to regularly send their employees for testing once every quarter, at no cost to the employees," the trade (DTI) and labor (DOLE) department said in a joint memorandum circular released Friday.

"Employers are encouraged to collaborate with the national and/or local government testing efforts like drive-thru or walk-thru testing facilities," they added.

Counting on businesses to help their employees is one thing but whether these firms, many of which are still trying to recover from the lockdowns, can afford to extend such assistance is another. Micro-, small- and medium- enterprises (MSMEs) including sari-sari stores and community pharmacies among others, account for 98% of total firms in the country and employ a huge chunk of the labor force.

The DTI and DOLE issued the memo less than a week before the 15-day modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) imposed in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces will lapse on August 19. The return to MECQ, a more stringent lockdown, was prompted by calls from health workers for a "timeout" amid a new wave of infections since the economy reopened in June.

Workers affected by the reimposition of MECQ are not receiving fresh government aid, with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte admitting that cash is depleting in state coffers. 

Meanwhile, the Palace already said an extension of MECQ is "highly unlikely", adding that Metro Manila alone is losing "P18 billion" every day that it remains under this classification.

The joint DTI and DOLE memo covers "all private establishments regardless of economic activity."

Apart from testing employees for free, the DTI and DOLE also wants employers to implement "all necessary workplace safety and health programs", including giving psychosocial support and compelling workers to wear face masks and observe social distancing, among others. — Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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