2020 will be remembered as the year when the whole world stood still. For the first time since the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, countries around the world are severely affected by a medical disease caused by a virus.
The recently discovered coronavirus that is causing the infectious COVID-19 was first identified through an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
As of 15 July 2020, 13,150,645 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in more than 215 countries and territories, resulting in more than 574,464 deaths deaths. The Philippines, as of 15 July 2020, has reported 58,850 cases, 36,260 of which are active, and 1,614 deaths.
COVID-19 exposed the vulnerabilities and gaps in laws and government mechanisms that had already been existing even before the virus was discovered.
One of the most vulnerable sectors is the labor sector. After the enhanced community quarantine was lifted in major cities and provinces in the Philippines, workers went back to work facing the threat of COVID-19.
Workers are left with no choice but to overcome their anxieties and fears, in addition to the actual threat of COVID-19, in order to feed their families. The new environment and the conditions brought about by COVID-19—the “new normal”—call for new regulatory measures that would ensure the health and safety of the workers and their families.
Some of these new measures that the government could adopt are the following:
1. Facilitating testing for workers;
2. Considering COVID-19 as an occupational disease;
3. Providing for hazard pay for all workers at risk of contracting COVID-19; and
4. Issuing clear mandatory guidelines that require employers to provide protective equipment to their employees per industry as a means of protection against COVID-19.
These measures would pave the way for additional protection for workers. By protecting workers, the government will also be helping their families, addressing their anxieties and strengthening their confidence that their loved ones will be taken care of.
In these trying times, the government should show its commitment to and appreciation for workers by valuing their work and guaranteeing that responsive policies are in place to protect their health and safety.