Assistance needed for sick workers on home quarantine

Published January 27, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

E CARTOON JAN 27, 2022

The past few days saw a surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases. In fact, last Jan. 15, 2022, new cases reached 39,004, marking a grim milestone since the start of the pandemic. This surge was attributed to the Omicron variant — now becoming the dominant strain — which is more transmissible, even three to five times potent than Delta. This was evidenced by a high household transmission rate, where one infected individual could lead to infecting everyone at home.

Though the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that the Omicron is still “dangerous” and may still cause death, data has revealed that this variant appears to be less threatening especially among the vaccinated. Thus, a majority of the infected were able to recover through home isolation, utilizing home remedies that ease the virus’ symptoms.

With this scenario, a majority of the workforce who were infected were in self-imposed home quarantine. Depending on the number of days and pursuant to their company’s policies, this has affected their take-home pay, which negatively impacts their capability to pay rent, electricity, and even for medicines. A lot of them have acceded to the government’s call to self-isolate but how are they now, especially if they are on a “no-work, no-pay” basis?

One of the government’s responses to assist the infected workers in home confinement is through the Social Security System (SSS). In a statement, the SSS clarified that members who cannot work due to sickness or injury and are confined, either in a hospital or at home for at least four days, could avail of the sickness benefit. Aside from employed members, SSS also grants sickness benefits to self-employed, voluntary, and OFW members.
The statement added that COVID-infected members in home confinement can “qualify under the program if they have paid at least three monthly contributions within the last 12 months before the semester of sickness or injury and are confined either in a hospital or at home for at least four days.”

This is welcome news for employed members. But they “should have used all their current company sick leave with pay and notified their employer about their sickness.” On the other hand, self-employed, voluntary, and OFW members and those separated from employment must notify SSS directly.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also called on the private sector to assist their employees who are sick. In an advisory, the department “urged employers, in consultation with their employees, to adopt and implement an appropriate paid isolation and quarantine leave program on top of existing leave benefits under the company policy, Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Labor Code, and special laws.” It added that the “paid isolation and quarantine leaves shall be without prejudice to other benefits provided by the SSS and the Employees’ Compensation Commission.”

These are all welcome developments to assist the majority of workers who were sick these past few days. But going back to our question earlier, how about workers in the informal sector? The contractual workers? Or those who have no SSS membership?

The government, in its pursuit to provide a convenient life for all, must now make it up to the sick who risked a few days’ worth of income just to stay at home. After all, when these workers were well, they moved the wheels of the economy for the benefit of all. The government now owes them the best response.