Employers urged to prioritize workers’ safety, adopt telecommuting as PH confirms first nCoV case

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker on Thursday urged employers to prioritize their workers’ health and safety as the country confirms its first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

In a statement, Senator Joel Villanueva called on employers to consider the occupational health and safety of their entire organization and to not hesitate to send home workers who manifest symptoms of novel coronavirus.

Common symptoms of 2019-nCoV include cough, colds, fever and shortness of breath.

Coronavirus, which is a large group of viruses common among animals, causes respiratory infections ranging from common cold and pneumonia to more serious diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

He also urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to issue a labor advisory reminding private companies of their obligations to comply with the country’s labor laws, particularly the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.  

“While the public’s awareness of the prevailing health scare concerning the novel coronavirus (nCoV) remains high, our labor officials should seize the moment to reiterate that the health and safety of our workers must be of paramount concern to employers. Our OSHS law states this principal clearly and unequivocally,” he said.

“The labor advisory will also serve as a warning for companies who think that they can tip toe around prevailing regulations without any consequence,” he added.

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on labor, employment, and human resources development, also proposes for the private sector to adopt telecommuting as a work arrangement for employees whose tasks can be done remotely to minimize work disruptions.

Under Republic Act No. 11165, or the Telecommuting law, which Villanueva principally authored and sponsored, institutionalizes telecommuting as a work arrangement and harmonizes its principles with the Labor Code.

The senator also prodded DOLE to “take cue from their counterparts in the Department of Health, which have been aggressive in informing the public of the proper precautions to avoid nCoV and the suspected and confirmed incidences in the country.”

“We hope to see this similar resolve from our friends in the labor department for the benefit of our workers,” he said. “The most important action we can do is preventing the spread of illnesses as simple as the flu.”

“Right now, the practical approach to preventing an outbreak is a sustained information drive on the issue for workers and employers,” he added.

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