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Groups mull legal action vs on-site worker vax policy

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
Groups mull legal action vs on-site worker vax policy
A health worker prepares for the inoculation of Quezon City residents at Kia Theatre in Cubao on June 23, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Labor, transport and socio-civic groups are considering legal remedies against the two resolutions recently issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) requiring all on-site workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and for those unvaccinated to regularly undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing at their own expense.

At a press conference yesterday, VJ Topacio of the Pro Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE) said their team is now studying the possibility of filing the necessary petitions before the Supreme Court to challenge and defer the implementation of IATF’s Resolution Nos. 148-B and 149 issued on Nov. 12 and Nov. 18, respectively.

“In terms of filing legal remedies, we are now talking with several legal experts. We may probably ask [the SC] for a TRO (temporary restraining order) and writ of preliminary injunction to defer the implementation of the resolutions. We may also challenge the legality of the resolutions through a petition for certiorari,” Topacio said in Filipino.

Workers and civic groups, led by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Confederation for Unity Advancement and Recognition of Government Employees (COURAGE), PLACE, BPO Industry Employees Network, UP Transport Group and Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) are set to hold a dialogue with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Monday to demand the deferment of the scheduled implementation of the IATF resolutions on Dec. 1.

The groups are also set to hold a nationwide protest on Nov. 30 to demand the recall of what they described as “punitive” and “unconstitutional” IATF resolutions.

The groups said that if the government will not heed their call, it is only then that they will elevate the matter to the SC.

Under IATF Resolution No. 148-B, “in areas where there are sufficient supplies of COVID-19 vaccines as determined by the National Vaccines Operation Center (NVOC), all establishments and employers in the public and private sector shall require their eligible employees who are tasked to do on-site work to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

“Eligible employees who remain to be unvaccinated may not be terminated solely by reason thereof. However, they shall be required to undergo RT-PCR tests regularly at their own expense for purposes of on-site work. Provided that, antigen tests may be resorted to when RT-PCR capacity is insufficient or not immediately available,” the resolution added.

In the succeeding Resolution No. 149, the IATF said the frequency of the RT-PCR testing for purposes of on-site work shall be determined by the employers “but which should be at least once every two weeks.”

In a joint statement, the groups said the IATF resolutions do not only place added burden on the workers but also violate their right to life, dignity, freedom and access to property guaranteed under the Constitution.

The groups said the IATF policies also violate the worker’s right to security of tenure provided under the Labor Code and contravene the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program under Republic Act 11525, which states that “vaccine card shall not be a mandatory requirement for employment, nor should it be a pre-condition for hiring or for work continuity.”

The groups said the IATF resolutions also contravene the Department of Labor and Employment’s earlier advisories prohibiting the “no vaccine, no work policy.”

“There should be no discrimination between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated workers in terms of enjoying their basic rights and in accessing the services and benefits from their employers and the government,” the groups said in a joint statement in Filipino.

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