Why garbage collectors are also front liners

April 28, 2020 - 7:12 PM
This 2018 file photo shows workers collect garbage from Balintawak market along EDSA in Quezon City. (The STAR/Boy Santos)

An environmental health organization is calling on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to allow provision of hazard pay to garbage collectors deployed during the enhanced community quarantine.

EcoWaste Coalition urged DILG Secretary Eduardo Año to authorize the local government units to use at least 20% of their development fund for the hazard pay for garbage collectors.

“We urge the DILG, in coordination with DBM (Department of Budget and Management), to further unlock the restrictions on the use of local development fund to give LGUs the flexibility to provide appropriate hazard pay to garbage collectors servicing their areas during the ECQ,” of Jove Benosa, EcoWaste Coalition said in a press statement.

“We request the DILG and the DBM to issue a follow-up Memorandum Circular to this effect,” he added.

The DILG and the DBM previously issued Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1, series of 2020, allowing LGUs to use 20 percent of their development fund for COVID-19 response.  The directive, however, did not specify the payment of hazard pay to garbage collectors as an allowable expense.

Garbage collectors are among the workers at risk of getting exposed to the virus because of the nature of their work.

The group said the provision of the requested hazard pay for garbage collectors is a way of expressing the “society’s recognition” of the role they play in waste management amid heightened health and safety risks of COVID-19.

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

The environmental health group’s call coincides with the observance of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on April 28.  This annual commemoration “promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally.”

Last April 6, the EcoWaste Coalition also appealed to the government to give hazard pay to garbage collectors, regardless of their employment status, “due to the risks they face in the performance of essential waste management services under the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the coronavirus outbreak.” It sent a letter to DBM.

DBM Assistant Secretary Achilles Gerard Bravo replied to the group’s letter on April 14 saying that “institutional COS (contract of service), such as the garbage collectors from companies engaged by LGUs, are not considered as government personnel as they are continually regarded as employees of the contractor or service provider.”

“The private contractor or service providers may, at their own predilection, grant a benefit similar to the COVID-19 hazard pay to their workers deployed in government agencies and LGUs during the implementation of the quarantine measures,” Bravo added.

Some Filipino online users also earlier called on the government to provide garbage collectors hazard pays as well as personal protective equipment.

“Sana po may directive na hazard pay para sa frontliners: from medical hanggang sa mga garbage collector,” artist CJ De Silva tweeted last April 14.

“Lets also commend ung mga housekeepers, basurero and other maintenance personnel that are still in duty. Sana they also have proper PPE and hazard pay,” Twitter user Dixie Bautista also said last March 23.

This call is also being lodged in other countries like the United States.

In Pittsburgh City, Pennsylvania, “garbage collectors are refusing to do trash pickup, claiming they are not being protected during the coronavirus outbreak.”

“Half the people don’t tie their bags, so when the stuff spills out, they tell you to pick it up. There’s Kleenexes that people blow their nose and cough in,” Pittsburgh employee Sheldon White was quoted in a report of WPXI.

Several online users also back their petition for hazard pay and PPE.