Solons bat for telecommuting, mobile text alerts on Covid-19

With the Covid-19 contagion starting to disrupt the daily routine of Filipinos, lawmakers are urging private companies to adopt telecommuting and for the government to send free mobile alerts to ease widespread fears.

According to Sen. Joel Villanueva, telecommuting work arrangements can keep workers safe from infectious diseases like Covid-19 and maintain their productivity since they can continue fulfilling their duties and responsibilities wherever they are.

While the rising threats to public health triggering a slowdown in the economy, Villanueva explained that companies can mitigate the impact if parts of their operations continue by implementing telecommuting in their respective organizations.

“Telecommuting allows organizations to maintain a level of productivity as we wait out for diseases like Covid-19 to taper off. The last thing we want to happen is that we become paralyzed with fear of the disease,” said Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development.

“If everything comes to a full stop, the economic gains we have been enjoying in the last 10 years will be put to waste,” he added. “We continue to encourage our friends in the private sector to consider telecommuting as a viable alternative to maintain their productivity while protecting their workers from Covid-19.”

He credited several companies who have announced the implementation of work-from-home schemes in their organizations as a response to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country. As of March 9, 24 persons have been confirmed to have Covid-19 in the Philippines.

“We can all do our share in protecting our workers from the disease by minimizing their risk of getting infected. The least we can do now is to avoid public places such as public transportation terminals where social distancing can be tough to practice,” Villanueva said.

The lawmaker called on the Department of Labor and Employment to continue its effort to encourage companies to implement telecommuting work arrangements.

Republic Act. No. 11165 or the Telecommuting Act encourages the private sector to adopt a telecommuting work arrangement, more popularly known as “work from home.” The scheme must be based on mutually agreed upon rules by employers and their workers.

The law reiterates that telecommuting programs should continue to uphold minimum labor standards such as workers’ health and safety, schedules and workloads, work hours, and social safety nets.

It also enshrines the protection of workers under a telecommuting arrangement, giving them the same rights such as equal pay and leave benefits, among others, as their office-based counterparts.

Sen. Grace Poe, on the other hand, urged health and civil defense authorities to send the free mobile alerts on Covid-19 to help citizens make informed choices.

Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, said in a resolution that the text alerts should at least contain the regularly updated summary of confirmed cases, the affected areas of recent cases for the purpose of contact tracing and a 24/7 hotline to the Department of Health (DOH) to report suspected cases.

The mobile alerts, in coordination with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, must also include relevant information on Covid-19, such as measures for preventing the spread of the virus, its known symptoms and when to seek medical attention.

“The initial step to contain a virus is to make information on it viral through all available means,” Poe stated. “Improving the spread of information will help counter inaccurate reports and prevent mass hysteria,” she added.

Poe pointed out that information on the potentially deadly virus can be further strengthened through the use of mobile text alerts under Republic Act No. 10639 or the “The Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act,” which she co-authored.

Under the law, mobile phone service providers are mandated to send out at regular intervals warnings that consist of up-to-date information from relevant agencies in the event of a calamity. The alerts must include contact information of local government units and other agencies required to respond to the situation.

“There is no doubt that Covid-19 is a disaster or a calamity under the applicable laws, especially after it was declared a health emergency by the WHO and the President, respectively,” she said.

Mobile text alerts will also ensure that the public receives accurate and properly vetted information on the outbreak, she added.

Poe’s resolution comes on the heels of an announcement by the DOH confirming new cases of Covid-19, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 35 as of Monday, March 10. The spike in the number of infections in a span of a few days compelled local governments to suspend schools and several lawmakers to encourage companies and employers to allow their workers to work from home.

Worldwide, it has affected more than 80,000 people and killed 3,100.

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