Workers are exempted from ‘no vax, no ride’ policy – DOLE chief | Inquirer News
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Workers are exempted from ‘no vax, no ride’ policy – DOLE chief

By: - Reporter / @JeromeAningINQ
/ 05:05 AM January 19, 2022

Silvestre Bello III

MANILA, Philippines — Workers with proper identification are exempted from the “no vaccination, no ride” policy of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the current surge in COVID-19 cases, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) said on Tuesday.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III made the clarification following the uproar over the policy, which several lawmakers had criticized, saying that the lack of access to vaccination had resulted in many people being unduly deprived of essential services, such as public transportation.

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Speaking at a briefing held by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, Bello said unvaccinated employees working on-site had “always been exempted” from this rule.

Workers are already being required by their employers to regularly submit negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) COVID-19 test results, at their expense.

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“Our workers are exempted because they are rendering essential services,” Bello said. “If you stop them, how can our businesses flourish? If there are no businesses, there’s no economy.”

The secretary said unvaccinated employees only need to show their identification cards so they would not be denied use of public transportation.

He said Dole would be informing the implementing agencies about this exemption, “especially for our workers who are already having a hard time working and yet they are still being given a hard time going to work.”

DOTr spokesperson Goddes Libiran said not all unvaccinated workers were exempted from the policy.

“If going to work but without vaccination card, one must show that your work is an ‘essential work,’” she told reporters.

She explained that the DOTr order referred to “essential goods and services, hence the work must be essential, too.”

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These jobs are defined as essential in accordance with the rules set by the government’s pandemic task force, she said.

As public outrage mounted over the “no vaccination, no ride” policy, Sen. Francis Pangilinan pushed Vice President Leni Robredo’s proposal to set up vaccination sites at major transportation hubs in Metro Manila to bring the jabs to the workers instead of the other way around.

Robredo’s suggestion is to arrange daily vaccinations at bus terminals like the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange.

Pangilinan said the DOTr’s “draconian” policy appeared to target the poor, depriving them of access to mass transportation at a time when low-paid workers could not afford to lose their livelihood.

“This no-vaxx, no-ride policy is a punishment on our people who only want to work, as well as those without cars,” he said in a statement.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the transportation policy smacked of cruelty.

“Is this really how you treat our people? I hope you experience what it feels to be maltreated!” he said on Twitter.

Pangilinan said people were not getting vaccinated because they can’t afford to be absent from work.

“This no-vaxx, no-ride policy is such a hassle when vaccines aren’t accessible to all,” he said.

Vaccine availability is no longer a problem, but accessibility is “a different matter” because online enlistment is usually required and not everyone has internet connection, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson

‘Unintended consequences’

Lacson said a study, which he did not specify, showed that only 52 percent of Filipinos had online access, while at least 45 percent of the country’s population had not even connected to the internet.

“So, if there are Filipinos who do not have the capability to apply online, that’s a problem,” he said. “The government must provide a solution. It must make sure that vaccines are not only available but also accessible.”

The government must first make sure that the public has easy access to vaccines before it clamps down on the rights of citizens, including limiting their mobility through the “no vaccination, no ride” policy, Lacson said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she recognized the “good intentions” of the DOTr’s policy but it had “unintended consequences.”

“Public transport is an essential service; thus, any commuter must not be deprived of it. As of now, we cannot make vaccinations mandatory because the vaccines are only allowed under emergency use authorization,” she said.

Hontiveros appealed to the authorities to reconsider the policy, which she said would only unduly burden the people and discriminate against the unvaccinated.

Adopt Japan policy

House labor and employment panel chair and 1-PACMAN Rep. Enrico Pineda proposed that the government adopt Japan’s policy of not discriminating against unvaccinated individuals as well as getting informed consent on what may be the serious side effects of COVID-19 vaccines.

He pointed to the Japan ministry of health, labor and welfare’s policy to include myocarditis and pericarditis among the adverse reactions from mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

Japan used these two vaccines in inoculating over 79 percent of its 125 million population without making vaccination mandatory for its citizens.

He said there was “so much discrimination” against Filipinos who choose not to be vaccinated, including the “no jab, no job” policy of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Pineda was referring to IATF Resolution 148-B and 149, which require on-site employees to get inoculated if there is sufficient vaccine supply.

The IATF stated that unvaccinated workers may not be terminated because of their vaccination status, but they would have to shoulder the costs of RT-PCR tests every two weeks.

Pineda said Japan had no rule regarding the mandatory testing for employees, vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Ban in Europe

Japan also doesn’t have a “no vaccination, no ride” policy for domestic travel, according to an Inquirer review of the country’s transport policy.

But several European countries that are among the worst-hit by the current wave of COVID-19 infections have imposed new public transportation policies.

From Jan. 10 to March 31, unvaccinated individuals are banned from using domestic public transportation in Italy, except those who recently recovered from COVID-19.

In Germany, the unvaccinated have been required since November last year to provide negative COVID-19 tests to use public transport.

France has a proposed law requiring people age 16 and over to provide proof of vaccination when using long distance public transport like planes, trains and buses, except when they had “compelling family or health reasons.”

In those instances, they may present a negative COVID-19 test result “except in the case of emergency.”

—WITH REPORTS FROM DJ YAP, MELVIN GASCON, JULIE M. AURELIO AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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TAGS: COVID-19 restrictions, DOLE, no vaccine no ride policy, Silvestre Bello III
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