Filipino workers expressed worry about commuting costs, long traffic hours and office ventilation issues after the trade chief discouraged work-from-home arrangement under the COVID-19 Alert Level 1.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that while private employees can still work from home under this alert level, it is “not encouraged” since the setup can supposedly hamper economic recovery.
“We will encourage more on-site presence… before, we were encouraging work from home but now, we have physical presence,” he said in a Cabinet meeting aired Monday night.
“This means that more people will go inside their offices, which will stimulate spending because there are more opportunities to spend going to work and going home,” Lopez added.
“Businesses around the area will be supported. Many SMEs will be assisted by this, those who do their businesses near offices. There were few workers going to work in offices before,” he further said, referring to small and medium enterprises.
Micro, small and medium enterprises are the lifeblood of the economy as they make up 62.66% of the country’s total employment. The majority are in the National Capital Region, which has been downgraded to Alert Level 1.
Lopez said that remote working is still allowed but it is now “optional” as they “want to stimulate more economic activities.”
Isolation places in workplaces are also scrapped under the lowest alert level.
Government offices, on the other hand, are required to adhere to a 100% on-site workforce under this alert level.
Long traffic hours
Lopez’s comments were not welcomed by some workers who aired their concerns about the return of onsite work under Alert Level 1.
Remote work has been encouraged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as it reduces virus transmission and lessens people’s risks of exposure to the virus causing COVID-19.
However, with the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, protocols have been tweaked to allow more mobility for economic recovery.
While the country recorded recent decrease in COVID-19 cases, some Filipinos are still not keen on returning to onsite work. They cited long commuting hours due to vehicular traffic, especially in business districts.
“There are jobs that really need to be done in the workplace, but it’s time for our country to evolve for different setups in working. Instead of wasting and spending so much time commuting in transportation, since traffic problems are still common, jobs that can be done remotely should’ve stayed in that way,” a Facebook user said.
“If they really want to discourage this, then improve all forms of transportation and commuting first, then… for many, it is like an extra (two) or more hours of inconvenience to get to and from work—probably even more when there is rain, (when) it’s way harder to catch a ride going about,” another Filipino said.
Another Facebook user said that remote work is a “concrete solution for decongestion of our crowded cities.”
“Hamper economic activity? Consider the millions of hours collectively lost everyday to just traveling to and from work. Back in 2018, the estimated loss was P3.5B PER DAY due to traffic in Metro Manila alone,” the user added, referring to an old report by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In its study, JICA projected that the country would lose P3.5 billion daily due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila as some employees could not immediately work if stuck in traffic for hours.
Without new transportation infrastructure, the loss can rise to P5.4 billion daily by 2035, according to the JICA chief representative to the Philippines.
Others suggested a hybrid setup instead of discouraging remote work. This means a mix of onsite and work-from-home arrangements.
“Go hybrid. Employees must be given the option as long as they’re productive. WFH (work from home) will reduce traffic— they can go back to the province WFH, earning same sahod as if nasa city, ergo, purchasing power is higher. Go figure,” a Twitter user said.
“Unless their physical presence is required for them to do their work, employees should still be given the option to work from home,” another online user wrote.
“And with the current gas prices??? Push for hybrid setup. Employees should have the option to work on-site or at home. If they prefer lang and if needed. Ganito setup sa amin and I really appreciate the company for it,” a different Twitter user shared.
Oil price hike
Others similarly shared sentiments about the increase in gas prices and how it would affect drivers and commuters.
“Not to mention, the skyrocketing price of oil would definitely have fare price hikes for public transportation due to both inflation and Ukraine,” a Facebook user said, referring to the Russian-Ukraine crisis.
“Sa mahal ng (pamasahe) dahil sa pagtaas ng gasoline, bakit pa nila ipu-push ‘to?” a Filipino on Twitter wrote.
At the beginning of the month, motorists were greeted by a renewed increase in fuel prices. It marks the ninth straight week of oil price hike.
Caltex, Cleanfuel, Flying V, Petro Gazz, Petron, Phoenix, PTT Philippines, Seaoil, Total and Unioil increased their gasoline prices by P0.90 per liter and their diesel by P0.80 per litter last Tuesday.
An upward adjustment of P0.75 per liter was also reported to be imposed by Caltex, Flying V, Petron and Seaoil.
There were also workers who brought up concerns on ventilation and whether their offices can adhere to proper airflow practices in light of COVID-19 which is airborne.
“The next Covid surge may come from clusters of government workers ordered by Malacañang to work 100% on-site—many in poorly ventilated offices. When an infection occurs, people will get sick. Services of whole offices will be disrupted, defeating the order’s original goal,” an organizer from WeSolve Foundation said.
Offices are usually enclosed, air conditioned spaces. Enclosed spaces are more vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission since airborne particles of the virus can linger longer in this setup, compared to outdoor venues or indoor spaces with opened windows and doors.
According to the World Health Organization, this is because major wall or window unit air conditioning systems recirculate indoor air, making it easier for the virus to spread among people.
The United Nations agency said that this can be remedied by letting in fresh air from the outside and using air filters that can reduce the concentration of viruses in the air.