04/05/2023, 19.27
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Employees without health coverage forced into debt at state-owned companies

With medical coverage lost in January, many Clark Development Corporation employees are unable to pay for surgery and medicines. The Labor Department has promised to address the situation, but the union is calling for a return to the status quo ante.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Some employees of the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), a state-owned enterprise that administers the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone (CFEZ) in Central Luzon, have run up large debts to pay for medical expenses after their health insurance was put on hold.

Michael Sotto is one of them. A member of the Building Facilities and Maintenance Division, the 45-year-old has worked at the CFEZ for 25 years. Since a foot wound got infected, he has maxed out his union provident funds to pay for hospital bills and other medical expenses.

Sotto told Rappler, a Philippine online news website, that his take-home pay of P9,500 (US$ 175) every 15 days dropped off to P2,500 (US$ 45) after loan deductions.

“I need medicines, my family needs food. What I earn is not enough,” Sotto said. “They slash our salaries, they take away our benefits, our allowances. What will happen to us?”

Now he is looking for other work and asking friends and kin to help with expenses for gauze and medicines. His is not an isolated case among CDC employees.

As inflation eats away the value of wages, workers are demanding the return of health insurance and other benefits.

On 15 January, the CDC employees’ health insurance was removed from the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) following the decision by the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG ) to approve a new Compensation and Position Classification System (CPCS).

This has left many out in the cold. Like Sotto, CDC communications manager Eric Jimenez, found himself without insurance at a time when he needs open heart bypass surgery. The procedure costs P1,000,000 (US$ 18,400), which the Pampanga Press Club (PPC) is trying to raise.

Meanwhile, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Undersecretary Bienvenido Laguesma assumed jurisdiction of the labour dispute on 16 January after a strike by workers.

Their union, the Association of Concerned CDC Employees (ACCESS), rejected the proposal, demanding instead the restoration of all their previous benefits.

So far, the DOLE has not convened any meeting to settle the dispute.

“All we want is the return of what was ours,” said ACCESS chairperson Randy Gomez. “We don’t know how long this will drag on. Shall we just tell each other, try not to get sick?”

Gomez warned the government not to ignore an issue that is “literally a matter of life and death for workers.”

For its part, the company plans to comply with DOLE’s decisions in order “to prevent a strike from damaging  Clark’s reputation as a premier investment destination,” said yesterday Bonifacio Tareno, CDC head of human resources.

“The strikes, as well as the general assemblies and marches during lunch break, create an alarming impression that a strike has already been declared against CDC,” he explained. Hence, “It is important for CDC to take the necessary action to avoid deterring potential investors from investing in Clark.”

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