National

MECQ dilemma: No ride going to work? Employees risk losing job, says DTI chief

MECQ dilemma: No ride going to work? Employees risk losing job, says DTI chief

MANILA, Philippines — Refusing to report to work despite the lack of mass transportation or company shuttles might reflect badly on workers, said Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, leaving workers with the burden of finding a way against all odds.

On Saturday, Lopez was asked on Viber if an employee in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) can refuse to go to work, in case the company does not provide any shuttle.

While Lopez said this is an issue that needs to be settled within the company, he warned that refusing to report to work might come with the risk of job loss.

“This will have to be settled within the company, between the employer and employee, to find ways that are workable. [It] could be near-site accommodations, carpooling, shuttling, vehicle plans, etc. Usually, they both find ways,” he said.

“If an employee refuses to work, it doesn’t reflect well on his [or her] character.  [He or she] should have [a] positive mindset.  Otherwise, he [or she] also runs the risk of losing his [or her] job,” he added.

Lopez made this comment on May 16, the first day wherein high-risk areas like Metro Manila are put under MECQ with little to no clue on how to follow the inconsistent guidelines imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).

Under MECQ, all businesses that are allowed under a general community quarantine are also allowed to operate, provided that only half of the workforce is on-site. In other words, this means that even businesses that were not considered essential can now go back to work.

The problem, however, is that the same guidelines required everyone to stay at home and suspended mass transportation, inconsistencies that were earlier pointed out by a top official of the Philippine Retailers Association. Only private cars, company shuttles, and bikes, among others, are allowed under MECQ.

The latest comment of Lopez, one of the government’s policymakers during the health crisis, is a stark contrast to that of some members of the business community, who want to revive the economy just as much as the government does.

Some business groups, such as the Management Association of the Philippines, stressed the importance of carefully bringing back mass transportation, as they feared how problematic the commute to work might be under MECQ.

Moreover, results of a preliminary survey on 400 respondents nationwide showed that majority of Filipinos will be returning to work “with a sense of worry” that they might get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were not comfortable about going to work, according to PhilhealthCare, Inc., the health maintenance organization that commissioned the survey. They were interviewed over the telephone with 33 percent of respondents coming from Metro Manila.

Another 400 respondents are set to be interviewed, which the company said would give a clearer picture of the public sentiment. PhilCare partnered with University of the Philippines professor Dr. Fernando Paragas, who serves as the survey’s lead researcher.

“All throughout the quarantine, all we had were assumptions about how Filipinos feel and think about COVID-19. Once complete, this survey should enable employers and even policymakers to come up with measures that will help employees cope with the situation,” said PhilCare president and CEO Jaeger L. Tanco in a statement.

Getting the virus is one problem. Worrying about the commute so that you would not lose your job is another. While this might be seen as a lapse on policymaking that can be remedied by simply raising attention to it, this is actually a deliberate choice on the part of the government.

When the question on public transportation was raised, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a televised briefing earlier this week that companies should not reopen if they do not have their own shuttles or if the workers don’t have their own cars.

“If the companies cannot provide shuttles or their employees have no means of transportation, businesses should not reopen because it’s more important to avoid what we call a second wave [of COVID-19 infections]. It’s a policy decision. We want to restart the economy but not at the expense of having a second wave,” Roque said.