Free COVID testing, treatment for call center workers sought

July 06, 2020

AS COVID 19 cases continue to rise in the Philippines, the BPO Industry Employees Network joined other groups of concerned citizens in filing a mandamus petition before the Supreme Court on July 3 “to compel” the country’s executive department particularly the Department of Health, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and other agencies involved in addressing the pandemic “to conduct mass testing, efficient contact tracing and isolation and effective treatment of positive cases.”

Mylene Cabalona, President of BIEN, said that “effective and fast conduct of these 3Ts, testing, tracing, treatment, is crucial to keep workers and our community safe from COVID 19.”

Call center workers have tested positive for COVID 19. In one call center in Bridgetown Pasig, eight workers tested positive for COVID19 while working on site during the period of enhanced community quarantine even as these workers were already staying in a hotel provided by the company.

“Now that most parts of the country are in general community quarantine and BPO companies are bringing more workers back on site, it becomes all the more urgent that mass testing be done to prevent the further spread of COVID19 in the workplace,” Cabalona averred.

Call centers are considered hotspots for the spread of the coronavirus as experienced in Seoul and in Jamaica, the group added.

“Although an Interim Guidelines on the prevention and control of COVID19 in the workplace has been issued by the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry, these guidelines give more emphasis on social distancing and disinfection in the workplace. But such measures will hardly be effective in controlling the virus without mass testing,” Cabalona said.

At the onset of the ECQ, BIEN has put up a petition on change.org calling on the government to conduct not only free mass testing but also free treatment of COVID 19 alongside two other demands: shift to work from home and paid time off. The petition gathered over 10,000 signatures.

Testing and treatment for COVID 19 proved to be very costly. This is true even for BPO workers who would commonly have a private health insurance. One call center agent who was treated for COVID 19 in private hospital maxed out her HMO coverage and had to pay roughly P146,000 for her hospital bill and administrative charges (roughly P16,000).

“For an call center worker who earns less than P20,000 a month, such amount is a fortune. Thus, we reiterate our call to the government to not just provide free mass testing but also free treatment of COVID 19,” Cabalona said.

In addition, when someone tested positive in a BPO workplace, companies would merely send workers for home quarantine even if they already got exposed to the COVID positive employee. In one call center in Manila, workers who got exposed to a COVID positive employee were brought to another condo- dormitory where other people reside which puts more people at risk of getting infected.

Thus in addition to testing and treatment, quarantine facilities for workers should also be available so that workers who have been exposed to a COVID positive workmate will not have to risk spreading the virus to their homes and communities, the group added.