Hazard Pay for Frontline Environmental Workers Urged for the Duration of the COVID-19 Lockdown

The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental health organization, has proposed to the government the provision of appropriate hazard pay for garbage collectors during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to stem the spread of the dreaded novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Through a letter sent via e-mail to four department secretaries, the group pointed to the need to provide assigned garbage collectors, particularly household waste and healthcare waste collectors, with some kind of hazard compensation due to the heightened health and safety risks they face in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The calculation of the requested hazard pay should begin on March 17, 2020 until the ECQ is terminated.

While President Rodrigo Roa Duterte through Administrative Order No. 26 has authorized the provision of hazard pay to government employees who physically report for work during the ECQ period, the same entitlement may not apply to most garbage collectors who are often hired by waste management companies contracted by local government units (LGUs), the group said in their common letter to Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Budget Management Secretary Wendel Avisado.

“As frontliners from the environmental sector in the country’s determined efforts to prevent and control COVID-19, we believe that garbage collectors are entitled to hazard pay — regardless of their employment status – due to the risks they face in the performance of essential waste management services, which can be considered hazardous, especially under the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the coronavirus outbreak,” wrote Eileen Sison, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

The lack of clear-cut regulations for the disposal of infectious waste from households, as well as the apparent increase in the disposal of infectious waste from healthcare facilities, justify the provision of hazard pay for these frontline environmental workers, the group said.

“Without their indispensable service, we may be faced with even more environmental and health hazards from uncollected waste,” emphasized Sison.

In the absence of a law requiring employers from providing their employees with hazard pay, the EcoWaste Coalition requested the four department secretaries “to use moral suasion to strongly encourage employers of garbage collectors — be they private companies or LGUs — to grant them daily hazard pay during the ECQ period.”

As some waste management companies and/or LGUs may be unwilling or financially constrained to offer hazard pay for garbage collectors, the group requested the national government to take on such responsibility with urgency as a humanitarian gesture in these most trying times.

“Such action will be in sync with Republic Act 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, particularly on the ‘provision of safety nets to all affected sectors’ of COVID-19. These can be factored in the social amelioration benefits, or the disaster funds of the LGUs,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Several labor organizations have supported the provision of hazard pay for garbage collectors that is being pushed by the EcoWaste Coalition through e-mails and text messages sent to the group.

Among the groups backing the proposed hazard pay for garbage collectors are the Associated Labor Unions – Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP-NCR), Consolidated Council of Health and Allied Profession (CCHAP-PSLINK), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Public Workers Congress (PUBLIK), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), and the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO).