The “living with COVID” policies that have led to the lifting of restrictions are often based on a misunderstanding of “endemicity”, or what endemic means.
We should understand that “living with COVID” does not mean SARS-CoV-2 is no longer serious. It is a policy decision of governments based on politics and economics (not science) that have decided that the current level of illness, hospitalization and death is acceptable in relation to the economic and social benefits of lifting all restrictions.
In countries where there is a good, well-funded, hospital system free to all, and a strong health care system, “living with COVID” might be manageable. We do not live in such countries.
Continue reading on our COVID-19 blog
In a blatant example of the injustice NagaWorld workers are fighting against, authorities arrested at least six striking union members under COVID-19 laws on Saturday, February 5. In contrast, no action was against NagaWorld management for covering up two COVID-19 outbreaks caused by casino customers (known to have tested positive) in February last year. In fact, the mass termination of union leaders and members – which is the reason for the current strike – occurred shortly after the union demanded the company do more to protect workers’ health and ensure COVID-19 safety.
On Friday, February 4, the Ministry of Health issued a letter declaring that a pregnant worker who went for a check-up tested positive for COVID-19. Without informing her directly the letter was issued publicly, disclosing her identity. She immediately responded on social media saying that due to her pregnancy she had not visited the picket line for the past 10 days. Ignoring this, the Ministry of Health called on all workers on the strike picket to have COVID-19 tests within three days.
The union, LRSU, agreed to comply with the instruction from the Ministry of Health and arranged for striking workers to go for COVID-19 tests in small groups for their own safety and security. Despite this effort by the union, local authorities moved to arrest striking union members on Saturday, February 5 – just 24 hours after the Ministry of Health announced that the workers had three days to be tested. To instill fear and disrupt the strike, authorities arrested six striking union members under COVID-19 regulations. In an attempt to create disorder and to provoke a confrontation with police, the picket line was surrounded at 9:50PM on Saturday to prevent workers from leaving and the street lights were turned off. Union members maintained their peaceful demonstration and refused to be provoked.
Supporters of the union and human rights defenders condemned the government’s actions as hypocritical. In November 2021 the government of Cambodia declared a full reopening due to the successful vaccination rate (98.5%) and the country was also opened to fully vaccinated visitors with no quarantine required. Over the past three months the Ministry of Health has not issued any statement calling for contact tracing and testing. The public statements issued against the striking NagaWorld workers are clearly politically motivated.
The actions against striking union members are in stark contrast to the government response to COVID-19 outbreaks at NagaWorld in February last year. One outbreak was linked to guests who had tested positive but allowed to enter the Naga 2 casino complex on February 25, 2021. While police removed the guests who had tested positive, workers were locked in the casino and forced to keep working. The authorities took no action against the company and more outbreaks occurred.
On March 1, 2021, LRSU wrote to management urgently requested testing for the casino to be closed for cleaning and for members to be tested. The union made five demands:
1. The management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of all staffs.
2. All workers of NagaWorld should remain at home without any punishment and on fully salary until it is declared safe.
3. All places in both building must do deep cleaning and disinfecting from specialist group.
4. Stop putting pressure on workers at all forms and all workers must have covid-19 test and confirm negative before return to workplace.
5. Stop suppressing information and to have greater transparency in tackling the community spread of COVID-19
Management refused and health authorities did nothing, allowing the crisis to escalate to the point where the integrated hotel casino complex was forced to close temporarily. The next step was to terminate en masse the union leaders and members who raised health and safety concerns.
Only now – 50 days into a strike that is embarrassing both NagaWorld and the government – the COVID-19 testing and safety measures the union called for in March last year are being used politically to disrupt and disband the strike.
See Naga World Hotel Casino ignored union calls for stricter COVID-19 safety measures. Now hundreds of workers are paying the price – June 3, 2021
After 17 months of being compelled to work as essential industry workers, Coca-Cola workers in the Philippines are apparently now worthless. Management in the Philippines is refusing union demands for fair wage increases despite members working hard as essential workers throughout the pandemic.
The value of workers’ lives is also in doubt as Coca-Cola Philippines refuses to reinstate three trade union leaders – Alfredo Marañon, Belarmino Tulabut, and Danilo Pineda – who were unfairly terminated 17 months ago for responding to workers’ concerns about workplace safety.
As FCCU-SENTRO-IUF members across the Philippines launch mass protests and prepare for strike action, they are calling on Coca-Cola to recognize their efforts as essential workers by engaging in good faith wage bargaining that provides fair wage increases. To bring attention to their protest Coca-Cola workers are wearing face masks that read: “Hey Coke are we essential or not?”
The campaign for the reinstatement of unfairly terminated union leaders at Coca-Cola Philippines continues to escalate nationally. Union members have sponsored a new billboard along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) from Manila to Pampanga. The billboard reads: “Save Coke Workers! CCBPI, REINSTATE Fred Marañon, Jhun Tulabut and Dan Pineda NOW!”
As the country locked down on March 15, 2020, and restrictions on movement were imposed, workers at the Coca-Cola plant in San Fernando, Pampanga province, were deeply concerned over the risk of infection following the death of a workers’ close relative to whom he had been exposed. In an emergency union meeting in the changing room on March 28, union leaders urged workers to comply with the government recommendations and stay home if they feared exposure or contaminating others, stating that they would respect workers’ individual decisions. Instead of recognizing these legitimate concerns over occupational exposure to COVID-19, management took disciplinary action against three union leaders, Fred Marañon, Jhun Tulabut and Dan Pineda.
Despite the fact that the right of workers to remove themselves from hazardous or dangerous situations without fear of punishment is protected under ILO Convention No.155, management ignored this right and terminated Fred Marañon, Jhun Tulabut and Dan Pineda for “economic sabotage”. Their termination was clearly an act of retribution by management against the local union and against Fred Marañon as the National President of the beverage workers’ federation, FCCU-SENTRO-IUF.
Coca-Cola Philippines workers demand reinstatement of union leaders in June 2020
The IUF-affiliated Sindh Nari Porhyat Council [SNPC], a union of women agricultural workers, made tremendous progress last year in promoting COVID-19 awareness and safety protocols. The distribution of masks and posters in Sindhi on the proper use of masks helped to improve occupational health and safety on farms and public health in rural communities.
This year SNPC continued its COVID-19 awareness campaign by focusing on vaccine awareness. Through education sessions in fields and communities SNPC leaders tackled misinformation, mistrust and unequal access. SNPC has been successful in mobilizing women farm workers in July 2021 to assert their right to be vaccinated.
“Vaccination is necessary to protect our families and community. It is our right. We have been campaigning for health rights including the right to safe drinking water for so long. This is just part of the same struggle,” said Abida Khaskheli, a member of the SNPC Youth Committee from Sultanabad.
In Gujarat, India, young members of the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU) are vaccinated in Panchmahal district, a tribal district with high level of vaccine hesitancy.
GALU’s youth organization Tarvariya Tarun Sangathan (TSS), which also runs its school of democracy and governance, is leading the COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign among young farm workers. This is supported by the special contribution of the United Workers Union (UWU) in Australia through the IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Solidarity Fund.