MANILA — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) volunteered to hire contact tracers under its emergency employment program to curb the spread of COVID-19, with the National Capital Region (NCR) and the surrounding areas of Rizal, Laguna and Cavite placed under NCR Plus ECQ until April 11 as total cases reached 803,398 following 8,355 new infections as of April 5.

Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello II, during a recent meeting of the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, advised local government units (LGUs) in the NCR Plus ECQ bubble through the Department of Local and Interior Government (DILG) to train workers to perform the task of a contact tracer between 10 to 15 days in their respective communities and cities.

“I was talking with Interior and Local Government Undersec. Epimaco Densing and he mentioned about DILG’s funding issues, that is why I volunteered the emergency employment program of DOLE”, Bello said, noting the move will help LGUs augment their manpower requirement to trace and identify COVID-19 cases.

“There is an urgent need to strengthen the contract tracing efforts in the country, and displaced and disadvantaged workers under the emergency employment program of the Department will be hired as contact tracers,” he added.

In a press statement released by DOLE, displaced underemployed and seasonal workers shall be provided with emergency employment for a minimum period of 10 days and a maximum of 30 days or depending on the nature of the work performed under the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced (TUPAD) Workers Program.

“We will leave (training)] to the better judgement of the DILG in selecting the worker-beneficiaries as contact tracers. It will depend on the number of contact tracers each LGU will need. We have sufficient budget for that,” Bello said.

Aside from the TUPAD program, Bello said DOLE will soon commence the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), a one-time cash assistance program to formal workers affected by the pandemic and accept applications from employers on behalf of their workers.

Bello also asked for more patience and understanding following the announcement of ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble.

8,000 workers displaced by the first three days of NCR Plus ECQ

In a report by GMA News, DOLE reported on April 5 that 8,000 workers were displaced by the first three days of the reimposed enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in NCR Plus.

Labor Assistant Sec. Dominique Tutay, during a virtual briefing, said there were a total of 118,210 displaced workers last March 31 according to the latest data.

“Around 8,000 were added to workers displaced, in terms of retrenchment and permanent closure,” Tutay said, with the figure expected to increase as the ECQ was extended for another week.

Tutay said DOLE is in the process of finalizing programs to assist affected workers.

“Our fear is that because of this pandemic, those firms trying to survive might lead to temporary or permanent closure and that is what we need to address,” she said, noting DOLE has already estimated the cost of the programs they are finalizing but refused to elaborate as details are still being ironed out.

According to the report, the country through the National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS) set out an ambitious target of adding 2.4 million to 2.8 million jobs this year but latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows unemployment rate rose to 8.8 percent in February or 4.2 million jobless Filipinos.

Malacañang: No additional aid despite ECQ extension

In his interview with ANC, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that there will be no additional aid for low-income households despite the extension of the reimposed NCR Plus ECQ for another week.

Traditional naman po na ang pasok lang naman talaga ay Monday to Tuesday (kapag Mahal na Araw), kaya dalawang araw lang po talaga ang nawala na kita sa ating mamamayan,” Roque said, noting the ₱1,000 worth of aid, which will be given either in cash or kind, is the final amount due to the recent Holy Week.

The ₱1,000 per individual or maximum of ₱4,000 per household assistance will be released to LGUs this week. It is part of the ₱23 billion earmarked by the National Government for low-income households within the NCR Plus bubble during the first week of the reimposed ECQ.

“The P4,000 per family… that will never be enough, but the nature of ayuda is to help (the family) pass this period na hindi makakapagtrabaho. ‘Yun na po ‘yun,” Roque said.