Workers denied entry to city retailers consider closing stores
Ehda M. Dagooc (The Freeman) - March 31, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Some supermarkets in Cebu may consider closing temporarily after employees were barred from entering city borders.

Midnight of March 30, 2020, Cebu Provincial Governor Gwendolyn Garcia imposed tighter border closures in all entries to Cebu City in a desperate measure to protect Cebu City from further spread of COVID-19.

Garcia considered Cebu City as the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the province.

“All quarantine passes were cancelled according to checkpoints. Special pass, ID of supermarket workers certification were cancelled too as of today [March 30, 2020]. At 4am on Monday employees who wanted to come to Cebu were warned that if they insist on entering Cebu City, they can no longer go home after work,” Go said.

“It’s chaotic now,” Go said reiterating that some supermarkets are considering to just close down operations.

“No employees are willing to stay in staff houses at this point of time because they are not used to [staying] in staff houses. Besides, they have families to go home to and feed,” said Prince Hypermart chain president Robert Go.

Go, who is also the former president of Philippine Retailers Association (PRA-Cebu) said this sentiment is not isolated to his business, but also to other supermarket operators operating within Metro Cebu area.

“We cannot suddenly look for boarding houses. Besides, landlords are not willing to accept new boarders at this time. Looking for housing facilities for thousands of workers is impossible now. Some supermarkets might just close shop due to lack of employees since they cannot cross borders,” Go explained.

“My last conversation with Gaisano Countrymall, they planned to pick up accounting staff but I don’t think they were able to. Accounting staff is needed to pay supplier because they need payment before delivery) if no payment, no goods will arrive. The same is true with Gaisano Capital; no driver, no cashier, therefore no delivery,” Go explained.

Special Pass

Go appealed for consideration from government authorities to provide special pass to supermarket workers, and not change the rules in the middle of the game.

“Supermarket workers’ special pass should be honored by checkpoints. As early as 4am, many supermarket workers were not able to report to work because their special passes were not honored,” Go reiterated. This new development among other logistical problems, are putting supermarket operators in a difficult situation.

In Mandaue City, Go claimed the city has ran out of quarantine passes.

“Our employees left their homes as early as 4am since we know there might be long lines, but it was useless because they were sent back home. Their quarantine passes were useless. I think they should correct the inconsistency of checkpoints,” he lamented.

Go said his company bought new buses after the government announced to declare an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), but “it’s now useless. My manager drives the company bus but as of Monday he cannot go through Bulacao, Talisay City to pick up the employees.”

“Our company office has 800 employees and no one is working now. Our accounting cannot to file BIR requirements today, and if we fail to meet the BIR deadline we have to pay 25 percent penalty, plus interest,” he further explained.

He said his company’s warehouses or distribution centers are closed “because no employee can come to work,” he said.

Go said that 90 percent of his employees live outside Cebu City, and without inter-city crossing, he said it’s impossible to operate with just 10 percent of workforce.

“Other supermarkets have the same problem. Even if we find houses to stay, no one willing to stay because it’s too cramped,” he added.

Seeking Support

According to Go, together with other local supermarket owners, they are seeking support from the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) to get their voices heard by the authorities.

“I am coordinating with the Chamber. CCCI officials are also concerned because they have received same complaints by businesses,” added Go, who is also CCCI past president.

At this point, problems in the value chain, largely logistics are also felt.

“Goods are not arriving. No supplies. No workers. No drivers. If this continues, even if supermarkets are open, there is no supply of goods. Worst, if there are no people coming to work, we can’t remain open,” he told The Freeman yesterday.

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