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Biz groups seek workers' exemption from mandatory wearing of face masks, shields

Claiming it affects productivity, the business sector is calling on the government to exempt workers in factories and offices from the mandatory wearing of face masks and shields, a measure backed by research to be effective in blocking 99.9% of COVID-linked droplets.

In a joint letter addressed to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases through Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who co-chairs the body, business groups proposed the “implementation of practical workplace protocols.”

The groups include the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Philippine Silk Road International Chamber of Commerce (PSRICC), Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), and Philippine Exporters Confederation (PhilExport).

In its proposal, the business groups said the private sector is “one with government in helping ensure that the workplace is safe for our stakeholders.”

However, the groups said that except for the frontliners, “we respectfully take exception to the wearing of face shields inside the office and factories for the rest of our employees, since this can adversely affect their vision, physical safety and productivity.”

The business sector explained that wearing of face masks and face shields is particularly a serious concern for the construction and manufacturing industries such as electronics and automotives which work with minute parts and sensitive production lines.

“Please note that the situation in the workplace is not the same as on the streets, since office movements are controlled and guided by the safety and health protocols such as temperature checking, washing of hands and sanitizing footwear,” it said.

In August, the government required the wearing of face masks and face shields in workplaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that employers could be held administratively liable if this health measure will not be observed in the workplace, although non-observance will not result in closure of the workplace.

A study by research at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom found that covering the face can block the spread of COVID-19 linked droplets by 99.9%. 

Meanwhile, business groups also said that the mandatory isolation rooms for every 200 employees also pose major issues.

“First, there is the problem of space on where to locate these rooms. Second, why is the government passing the responsibility to the private sector when obviously we are not competent to handle this?” the groups said.

“The in-house isolation rooms will even endanger the people working in the same building, causing much apprehension that they are within the vicinity as the infected people,” the groups added.

The business sector, likewise, recommended to relax the rules for other non-essential sectors.

“We also hope that the IATF will seriously consider loosening restrictions on non-essential sectors, including non-contact sports activities,” the groups said.

It cited golf clubs, which they said “are very, very low risk,” considering that games are played in open spaces.

“Restrictions on the use of locker rooms and in-house restaurants and gatherings such as awarding ceremonies are understandable and easily complied with by all clubs. But what is beyond the comprehension of members is the 50% restriction on tournaments. As the Chairman is aware, by their nature, the games observe physical distancing because of the rule on the arranged progression of 18 holes,” the groups noted.

“By allowing these facilities to operate based on the general standards, some 30,000 to 50,000 people, who are now out on the streets begging and unprotected at that, can go back to work,” it added.

The business groups said it remain confident that “we can balance our health and economic objectives as we strictly adhere to the relevant safety protocols. Towards this objective, we will appreciate if the IATF can consider our recommendations.” —KBK, GMA News