Mandatory testing only for workers with symptoms

THE Department of Labor and Employment yesterday clarified the joint memorandum circular it issued together with the Department of Trade and Industry in connection with the required mandatory COVID-19 testing for workers and employees in identified industries.

Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III stressed that the new protocol is mandatory for workers or employees displaying symptoms of the disease.

“In order to make a clearer understanding of the DOLE-DTI Supplemental Joint Memorandum Circular on the requirement for RT PCR test for workers and employees in identified industries, let me emphasize that the new protocol makes it mandatory only for those personnel with symptoms of the virus,” he said in a statement.

Bello, however, added that undergoing swab test is highly encouraged for asymptomatic workers and employees.

“In both instances, the test shall be at no cost to the workers,” he also stressed.

The DOLE earlier said workers in the hospitality and tourism sectors, manufacturing companies, including frontline and economic priority employees, will be required to undergo regular RT-PCR test to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces but the test fee should not be shouldered by the workers.

Bello said this is contained in the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 20-04 series of 2020, or DTI and DOLE Supplemental Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of COVID-19 which took effect Saturday.

Bello said the measure is so far the most comprehensive set of guidelines for the safety and protection of workers and employees in workplaces.

“The strict observance of these health protocols will make a big difference in our long-drawn battle to defeat COVID-19 and ensure the productivity of the Filipino workforce,” he said.

Identified to undergo real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, or RT–PCR test, are workers in the tourist zones, local manufacturing companies, transport and logistics, food retail, education, financial services, non-food retail, services, public market, construction; water supply, sewerage, and waste management; public sector, and mass media.

The guideline specifically mandates all employees in the hospitality and tourism sectors in El Nido, Boracay, Coron, Panglao, Siargao, and other tourist zones, as identified and declared by the Department of Tourism to undergo the test once every four weeks.

For employees of manufacturing companies and public service providers in economic zones located within Special Concern Areas, they must be tested once every quarter.

Frontline and economic priority workers, or those work in high priority sectors, both public and private; have high interaction with and exposure to the public and live or work in special concern areas, must be tested once every quarter.

The joint memorandum covers all establishments, projects, sites, including establishments located inside special economic zones and other investment promotion agencies, and all other places where work is being undertaken in all branches of economic activity, except in the public sector.

Aside from the regular testing, DOLE and DTI also mandate the wearing of face mask and face shield and providing disinfection materials and supplies in strategic areas in workplaces, including company shuttle services.

Sick leave benefits, medical insurance coverage, including supplemental pay allowance, for COVID- 19 RT-PCR test-confirmed employees or close contacts made to undergo a 14-day quarantine must also be provided to workers.

Masks with a vent are prohibited under the joint memorandum circular, while face shields must cover the entire face. Cloth masks with an additional filter such as tissue paper or similar material may be used as long as they are clean and washed daily. Visor-types are not allowed to be used.

Bello said employers classified as large and medium-sized private establishments, or those with total assets above P15-million, are enjoined to provide shuttle services to their employees.

Adequate ventilation must be strictly enforced inside the workplace, including the installation of exhaust fans and air filtration devices are also encouraged. Windows of shuttle service must also be opened at least three inches while in transit.

To properly manage asymptomatic and symptomatic cases, the DOLE-DTI guideline requires employers to ensure that the employees, regardless of work arrangements, have access to telemedicine services. Large and medium private establishments are highly encouraged to provide their telemedicine services, in the absence of an HMO.

“We encourage large and medium private establishments or those with multiple tenants, to designate an isolation area of one room for every 200 employees, which shall be other than the company clinic,” the labor chief said.

Private establishments unable to establish an isolation area may make arrangements with a temporary treatment and monitoring facility nearby or with the Barangay Local Government Unit while malls and buildings must have at least one isolation area near the entrances.