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Terminations, Forced Leave Hit Thousands of Workers in Subic Due to Covid-19 (Wuhan Virus) Pandemic

by Louella G. Vizcocho

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT – This former US Naval Base turned Freeport has, to date, zero positive case of the Wuhan Virus (Covid-19) but, nevertheless the Pandemic has taken its toll on business and the labor sector here, as well.

According to the Labor Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), companies have “resorted to cost-cutting measures like forced leave, compressed workweek schedules, or outright termination of workers since February” when the Covid-19 outbreak began to hurt business activities in all levels worldwide.

Wistron Infocomm (Philippines) Corp., a computer device manufacturer and technical service provider tops the number of employees separated with 551, followed by port operator Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC) with 121, theme park operator Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, Inc. (Ocean Adventure/Camayan Resort) 110, and Simon & Stanley International Trading & Development Co., with 74.

DUSTS from grains being unloaded from bulk carrier ships at the NSD Compound of the Subic Bay Freeport rise several hundred meters high as business activities on the pier continue through the various Covid-19 quarantine phases imposed in the Freeport, as in other parts of the country. However, many firms took harder hits than others, forcing them to lay off, if not put on “forced leave” thousands of employees. SubicBayNews photo© by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.

The report showed that as of June 2, a total of 2,435 workers underwent forced leave while 124 others were bumped off by compressed workweek schedules because of low demand for company products, or due to lack of materials and supplies for production.

Wistron also placed hundreds of workers on forced leave in February and March before finally separating the 551 of the employees last April.

MORE LAY-OFFS

Meanwhile, ship repair firm Subic Drydock Corporation (SDC) is scheduled to separate 52 employees on June 25 after implementing mandatory leave for 149 workers on May 1 to 15, according to the SBMA Labor Department report.

Subic Drydock administrative manager Diana Ross Mazo said in a statement that the imposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last March “forced the business to shut down for two months without revenue.”

Mazo said that despite the cancellation of project bookings, the SDC has recalled back to work 40 percent of its employees as the company reopened in a staggered fashion starting May 18.

“Over the next few weeks, SDC will gradually increase capacity in support of the ‘new norm’. However, based on careful review of our operation, we need to reduce manpower by separating some of our employees effective June 25,” she added.

Mazo said the company will abide by laws and regulations regarding the separation of workers and will provide the applicable 13th month and service incentive leave pay, as well as half month pay per year of service. Payment for the affected employees will be given in two separate checks: one dated June 26 and the other dated July 26, she added. 

Mazo also said that SDC officials, along with representatives from the SBMA Labor Department and the Department of Labor and Employment’s satellite office in Olongapo City, met with the affected workers in six batches until June11 to process the termination.

A Container ship leaves the docks of the Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC), one of several businesses in the Freeport that continued operations through the various Covid-19 quarantine phases imposed in the Freeport, as in other parts of the country. However, many firms took harder hits than others, forcing them to lay off, if not put on “forced leave” thousands of employees. SubicBayNews photo© by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.

SBMA Labor Department manager Melvin Varias said the SBMA Labor Department is closely monitoring the implementation by Subic companies of their retrenchment measures to ensure compliance with labor laws.

Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, various locators in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone employed a total of 138,940 workers, with close to 70 percent in the services sector and more than 15 percent in manufacturing, Varias said. 

MORE COMPANIES NOW OPERATIONAL

On Monday, June 1, SBMA approved the operation of close to 900 companies doing core business activities and providing essential services following the shift to general community quarantine (GCQ).

SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said the Subic agency lately gave the green light to 14 companies under GCQ rules, thus bringing the total number of open businesses here to 868.

SMOKE billows from the twin smoke stacks of the Subic Enerzone Power Plant, one of several businesses in Subic that continued operations through the various Covid-19 quarantine phases imposed in the Freeport, as in other parts of the country. However, many firms took harder hits than others, forcing them to lay off, if not put on “forced leave” thousands of employees. SubicBayNews photo© by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.

Most of those allowed to operate under various levels of quarantine are manufacturers of export products, producers and suppliers of food and medicine, those involved in logistics operation, and utility operators, Eisma added.

Prior to this, the SBMA allowed 568 firms to remain open when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) took effect on March 16, and then approved the reopening of 286 more companies after Subic transitioned to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) on May 16.

“The total number of locators that are now allowed to operate is just half of the 1,648 enterprises registered in Subic, but we are expecting more reopening in the coming weeks, as more qualified companies comply with minimum safety protocols specified under government guidelines,” Eisma said.

A BULK Carrier ship with grains cargo is assisted by tug boats as a vehicle carrier ship that could carry over two thousand vehicles unload at the NSD pier, one of several business activities that remained active through the various Covid-19 quarantine phases imposed in the Freeport as in other parts of the country. However, many firms took harder hits than others, forcing them to lay off, if not put on “forced leave” thousands of employees.
SubicBayNews photo© by Vic V. Vizcocho, Jr.

“But we have to remind everybody that we don’t allow companies to just open—even if they are qualified to open under Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guidelines—without first passing compliance assessment by the SBMA,” Eisma said.

Eisma explained the assessment entails an ocular inspection by SBMA health and safety officials, as well as the Incident Management Team, which coordinates the agency’s Covid-19 response program, and is based on guidelines on workplace prevention and control of Covid-19 issued by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). 

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