DOLE urges WFH amid rising COVID-19 cases

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
DOLE urges WFH amid rising COVID-19 cases
Commuters wait along Philcoa in Quezon City to get a ride, as the two-week transport strike begins on December 18, 2023.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — To avoid the possible spread of COVID-19 in workplaces, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is encouraging companies nationwide to adopt the work-from-home (WFH) scheme and other preventive measures.

Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma said the DOLE is not mandating but merely encouraging employers to implement measures to protect their workers amid the rising prevalence of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Laguesma suggested that workers voluntarily undergo swab tests if they are experiencing symptoms of the infection.

“I won’t dictate, but based on how we feel, if we have symptoms, let’s undergo a test. Safety is of utmost importance not only in workplaces, but also in our homes. We won’t force things,” Laguesma told reporters in Filipino yesterday.

He further stressed that there is an existing Telecommuting Law that both employers and workers can agree to adopt.

WFH arrangements can also be adopted as a response to the ongoing jeepney strike, according to the DOLE chief.

Laguesma admitted, though, that not all companies can adopt WFH arrangements, like the manufacturing industry.

Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez said the DOLE has long issued an advisory to guide employers who intend to adopt flexible work arrangements, including WFH.

“We issued that advisory to give guidance, so that both employees and employers know their rights and obligations. It’s a management prerogative, but we have to limit the management prerogative so that workers’ benefits won’t be prejudiced,” Benavidez explained in Filipino and English.

He said the DOLE advisory is not a new set of guidelines, but just a reminder for employers that there are policies that they can adopt when COVID-19 cases are rising.

The DOLE has not received reports of a rise in COVID-19 cases in workplaces, but Benavidez said it is expected to increase because of the holiday celebrations.

“In case there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases or other illnesses, employers and workers are ready and they know what to do,” he added.

20 percent positivity

Meanwhile, one in every five people who underwent RT-PCR testing for COVID-19 in the National Capital Region (NCR) has yielded positive results, according to the OCTA Research group.

Citing data from the Department of Health (DOH), OCTA fellow Guido David said the seven-day positivity rate in the NCR increased to 21 percent as of Dec. 17 from 13.4 percent last Dec. 10.

David said this was only the fifth time that the positivity rate exceeded 20 percent.

“Most cases were mild, but hospital occupancy increased,” he added.

The positivity rate measures the percentage of positive results out of the total RT-PCR tests conducted. It does not include results from the more popular antigen tests.

The World Health Organization previously recommended a positivity rate of five percent or below to effectively manage the pandemic.

Although a high positivity rate does not necessarily translate to a very high number of cases, OCTA earlier said that trends may show that cases are increasing. — Janvic Mateo

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