By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A federation of teachers on Tuesday expressed concern on the newly-issued alternative work arrangement guidelines of the Department of Education (DepEd) saying it lacks “essential health measures” to guarantee the safety of teachers and staff.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines raised alarm on the recently released DepEd Order no. 11, s. 2020 on alternative work arrangements guidelines, noting it “is sorely lacking on concrete health measures to warrant safe and viable return to schools and offices amid the pandemic and varying quarantine status,” said ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio.
In the revised guidelines, DepEd said that the “status quo on work arrangements for officials, teaching and nonteaching personnel in the entire DepEd nationwide is extended until June 21, 2020.”
Given this, ACT noted that starting June 22, education workers will be required to physically report to work in various means and set-up as allowed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Civil Service Commission (CSC).
ACT urged DepEd to administer health screening of teachers and staff by health professionals to “identify who among its employees are fit to report on-site and who needs to be quarantined before being allowed to come to school or office.”
From this, ACT said that DepEd will then be able to facilitate systematic mass testing among suspected cases and close contacts, aside from those belonging to vulnerable populations (i.e., senior citizens, pregnant individuals, and/or with pre-existing conditions).
“Even businesses instituted systematic testing of its workers as required by the government,” Basilio said. “It’s a shame that DepEd, with one of the largest public workforces, failed to include this crucial measure—implored by no less than the World Health Organization—in its back-to-work guidelines,” he added.
ACT also pointed out other “glaring” absences of provisions for health and safety essentials in the revised guidelines issued by DepEd. These include the distribution of facemasks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and hygiene kits to employees; ensuring health personnel and facilities (i.e., nurse and clinic per school) at the school level; and sanitation and disinfection equipment and personnel.
The group also highlighted the lack of sick leave provisions for teachers even in the face of a global health crisis. “Unlike all other government employees, teachers have zero sick leave credits,” Basilio said. “This puts them in a highly vulnerable situation especially during a pandemic as they run the risk of getting salary deductions if they contract COVID-19 and the provided 14-day COVID-related excused absences were used up,” he added.
ACT also found the “vague” provisions on DepEd’s transportation service guarantee for its employees worrisome as there was no mention of excusing absences sans arrangements to ensure the travel of teachers and staff. The group noted that this merits “urgent action from DepEd as IATF’s guidelines require agencies to provide shuttle services and the likes for employees who are made to physically report to work in areas under the general community quarantine.”