Frontline workers deserve respect and recognition

Published May 1, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

This year’s Labor Day observance is different from last year. As the government continues to search for the right combination of health and safety protocols that would complement the measures to reopen the economy, the significant contribution of Filipino workers to the overall national welfare comes to the fore.

COVID-19 has pushed the frontliners to the forefront of national consciousness. The meaning of frontliners has been expanded and broadened beyond doctors, nurses and other critical health care workers.  It now includes public transport drivers, supermarket cashiers and baggers, delivery crew motorcycle riders, and security guards.

In the vaccination priority list, category A4 has been expanded to include 19 subgroups.  While there is category “A4.2 – frontline government workers in the justice, security, transport, and social protection sectors,” there is also category “A4.6 – frontline government workers” in general; and “A4.11 – Construction workers in government infrastructure projects.”

The social protection sector is quite broad. All social workers employed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) could be included as the Social Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 5416) declares that “Its mission is to provide social protection and promote the rights and welfare of the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, families and communities.” Undeniably, this is a critical sector given the large number of families being marginalized and pushed down by economic dislocation.

The Cabinet’s economic team considers the “Build, Build, Build,” projects as the government’s primary anti-poverty thrust.  Hence, the Department of Public Works and Highways’ infrastructure program has been being scaled up. In the National Capital Region that is the hotbed of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DPWH 2021 budget lists 2,045 projects costing P51.3 billion.  More projects create more jobs and reduce hunger and unemployment.

Beyond placing them ahead in the queue for vaccine jabs, what else can be done to accord proper recognition to the importance of frontline workers and boost their contributions to the overall welfare of society?

Perhaps it is time to underline the primacy of frontline or customer-facing workers in companies and organizations by valuing their contributions more significantly.

Frontline workers need to be empowered so that they could fully deploy their native creativity and street-smart pragmatism in serving customers better.  Field workers who directly face customers or beneficiaries need to be recognized as well as those who issue orders from the head office.

As the government and the business sectors plan ahead for “building back better,” there is need to come to terms with the lessons learned from the pandemic. COVID-19 has reminded us of the need to reaffirm and uphold an all-important concept: The dignity of labor.

Frontline and customer-facing workers perform tasks that sustain society through extreme crisis situations.  We owe them due respect and recognition.