The chair of the House Committee on Labor and Employment said antigen testing is a more viable option compared to reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) if testing for COVID-19 is required for unvaccinated workers returning to work.
1-PACMAN Party-list Representative Enrico Pineda said RT-PCR testing is very expensive at around P2,500 per test, every two weeks, as required under the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) Resolutions 148-B and 149.
According to IATF-EID Resolution 148-B issued on November 11, on-site workers are required to be fully vaccinated.
Under the resolution, on-site workers who remain to be unvaccinated should not be terminated but must take RT-PCR tests “regularly at their own expense.”
Meanwhile, IATF Resolution 149 states that all partially vaccinated employees in the public and private sectors tasked to do onsite work need not undergo regular RT-PCR test at their own expense, as long as their second dose is not yet due pursuant to the interval prescribed for the brand of vaccine received as the first dose.
Pineda said if RT-PCR testing is a requisite to return to work for unvaccinated workers, the cost should not be shouldered by the worker or the employer, but by the government.
“We cannot put that burden on the employees, who may end up not having anything left from their salary at the end of the month.”
“We cannot put that burden on the employees, who may end up not having anything left from their salary at the end of the month,” the legislator said.
The lawmaker stressed antigen tests are cheaper, faster, and more effective as it only costs around P250.00.
“If it’s good enough for us, then maybe it should be good enough for everyone else.”
“RT-PCR testing could take up to three days for the results to come out. Would the worker be allowed to report to work before the results are out? Antigen tests can be done in less than 20 minutes. It is what we use here in Congress, we all get tested once a week. If it’s good enough for us, then maybe it should be good enough for everyone else,” he noted.
Pineda said requiring a person to be vaccinated just so that they may “be able to make a living is not right.”
“Even being fully vaccinated is no assurance against COVID-19. Nobody is really safe, whether they be vaccinated or not. The only advantage of being vaccinated is that they have lower chances of being infected at a severe or critical level,” he said.
Pineda said another concern is the availability and rollout of the vaccine.
“Some workers are willing to be vaccinated but cannot get any schedule. What about them? They cannot return to work and it’s due to no fault of their own,” he said.
The House Committee on Labor and Employment has resolved to urge the IATF to immediately suspend Resolution Nos. 148-B and 149.
“We have sent a letter to the IATF already so that they will not implement the Resolutions pending further deliberation, during our next Committee meeting. We need to think of the effect of these kinds of policies on our workers first,” Pineda said.
The Department of Labor and Employment has reiterated that while employers shall require their eligible workers who are tasked to do “on-site work” to get vaccinated, they may not terminate other employees who refused to obtain the vaccine.