Statement of the Labor Rights Defenders Network for Workers’ Memorial Day
28 April 2020
Atty. Fudge Tajar (LaRD-Net Spokesperson)-0915 342 2304
Today, April 28, we join the annual commemoration of the International Workers’ Memorial Day — a day of international solidarity, campaigning, remembrance, and call for global action as we remember those who have lost their lives at work or from work-related injury and diseases.
Whether it is due to back-breaking working hours, quota targets, hazardous chemicals at work, lack of safety committees, weak OSH policies, or a new strain of virus, workers all over the world are everyday at risk in unsafe and unhealthy working environments. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic aggravated the risks that working people experience, regardless of sector and industry. Both employers and workers face disruptions in the workplace but workers face greater difficulties as they are more vulnerable to the economic and health impacts of the pandemic. Amid the lockdown and lack of transportation, some workers were obliged to report to work, serve in the frontlines, or continue their production. In particular, workers in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries were immediately forced to work without concrete necessary precautionary measures in place to protect them from the coronavirus and to prevent the spread of the disease within the workplaces.
Hundreds of thousands of trade unionists are facing additional barriers in exercising their right to collectively bargain for a safety and healthy environment, guaranteed income (including hazard pay), and social protection. Meanwhile, the reduced economic activity brought about by the lockdown has driven more working people into poverty. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, job security was already beyond the grasp of most non-unionized workers, low-wage workers, migrant workers and workers in the rural areas due to the government’s anti-labor policies. At the time of the pandemic, such workers were either left jobless from massive layoffs or unpaid under the ‘no, work, no pay schemes’.
The Philippines was the first country to report a death from COVID-19 outside of China in February 2020. Filipino frontline workers and those in the skeletal workforces continue to go to work risking their lives. Many have fallen ill due to the lack of personal protective equipment. The country is also reporting one of the highest confirmed cases in Southeast Asia at 7,777 (April 27). The number of health workers who tested positive for COVID-19 has climbed to 1,101 on Sunday (April 26). As of April 27, 21 doctors and six nurses died from contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty.
It should be noted that the death toll from the COVID-19 in the Philippines is the second-highest in Southeast Asia. This is a reflection of the deplorable state of the largely privatized health care system in the country that prioritizes corporate interests over the peoples’ health, safety, and wellbeing. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder that public health measures should be extended to workplaces and marginalized communities and that the workers’ right to a safe and healthy environment should be guaranteed.
We do not want more workers to die, fall sick, and get injured because of their work! As we commemorate the IWMD 2020, the Labor Rights Defenders Network urgently demand the following:
1) Uphold the right to occupational health and safety, freedom of association, collective bargaining, and gender rights at work – Preparing workplaces for COVID-19 can greatly reduce risks of workers’ exposure to illness. Workers should be able to freely negotiate with their employers how to plan and implement COVID-19 safety protocols in workplaces, including preventing the spread of infection. The gendered impacts of the pandemic must also be part of the overall preparedness and response measures. The ILO statistics reveal that women make up the majority of health and care workers and are more likely to lack social protection. Women have been also performing more than three-quarters of unpaid care work globally. In addition, the majority of the workforce in SEZs are also women. Strengthening the implementation of laws and regulations that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthy working conditions and gender rights at work is vital. Employers must be held accountable for non-compliance and violations of these rights.
2) Guaranteed income and job security – Prior to the COVID-19, wage and job insecurity already plagues the world of work and has pushed many workers deeper into precarious conditions. With the imposition of enforced lockdowns, work from home schemes and work stoppage seemed to have become the norm rather than the exception. However, after a few days, it has become clear that working remotely is not an option for all and is not applicable to the majority of the workforce. Workers still have to pay rents and utilities, as well as buy food, basic necessities, and medicines. Minimum wage earners and informal workers who lost their income and livelihood due to their restricted mobility amid the lockdown are likely to be uninsured and without savings, making it more challenging for them to stock their pantry and sustain their basic needs. A guaranteed source of income such as paid quarantine leave will provide immediate relief for the most economically vulnerable during the pandemic. Economic relief measures should meanwhile address and prioritize job generation, job security, increase in workers’ wages, and price controls for basic necessities. Direct and mobilize resources to reduce people’s suffering, not to bail out corporations!
3) Greater social protection for all and immediate support to low-income and informal workers – The COVID-19 exposes the country’s weak social protection system. The Philippines falls behind the 6% international minimum standard set by the ILO for social protection spending, at less than 3% of the GDP. The privatization of public services, health, and social protection facilitated the accumulation of profits by corporations. The corporate capture of social protection exacerbates exclusion and inequality and continues to rob the workers by increasing contribution shares. There is an urgent need to reform the social protection system so that everyone, especially the most vulnerable, is covered, ensuring no one is left behind. Affordable health care, wage subsidies, financial assistance, livelihood programs, and unemployment benefits should also be mandatory and easily accessible by the elderly, low-income, non-regular and informal workers. The government’s massive budget for the military modernization and defense should be redistributed to the health’s budget. Such reallocation of the budget could have secured PPEs that would have prevented frontline health workers from exposing themselves to the coronavirus as well as medical facilities that could have saved more lives.
4) Mass testing and free treatment – Protecting workers go beyond the confines of workplaces. Priority should equally be given to early detection and treatment of the disease in communities to ensure that workers can safely travel to and from workplaces. Mass testing and treatment related to COVID-19 should be free of charge, and available, and accessible universally, including by the poor.
We salute the frontline workers and their steadfast dedication to continue providing services to the people amid the pandemic. We mourn for the lives that we lost and we extend our sincerest condolences to their loved ones who are going through bereavement alone as we maintain physical distancing. Their sacrifice is a distinct reminder that one death is too many. In our continuing effort to defend workers’ rights and welfare, we express our renewed commitment to organizing collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries, and diseases as a result of work.
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