EMPLOYERS rejected a Health department’s proposal for business owners to conduct random coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing on workers every two weeks, and called on the government to cover the cost of maintaining public health.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a television interview last week said that businesses should randomly select workers for rapid testing that confirm the presence of antibodies.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) in a statement Thursday said ideally, all employees should undergo more accurate swab tests that detect the presence of the virus instead of random rapid testing.

The group cited various medical organizations, including the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which warned that the use of rapid antibody test kits to clear workers could result in the spread of the virus given the inaccuracy of the tests.

“However, it is unfortunate that the underfunded and inadequate healthcare system in the Philippines cannot afford to provide free COVID-19 swab testing for the people,” the group said.

ECOP said that employers should not shoulder the costs of testing, noting that most are micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) facing budget constraints caused by the lockdown.

MSMEs had to either temporarily or permanently close down, the group said, especially with reduced orders from large companies amid a decline in demand, lack of raw materials, and the inability to transport goods.

“Business owners are not a government health insurance scheme to be tasked with providing for affordable and accessible health and services to all its employees in fighting the spread of COVID 19,” ECOP said.

The group added that private sector-funded testing could drive up costs for businesses focused on preserving jobs, noting that high costs could lead to their eventual closure.

“Instead, business owners should diligently impose efficient company protocols such as but not limited to wearing of masks, maintaining social distancing, and frequent handwashing that are consistent with existing governmental guidelines on workplace prevention and control of COVID-19.”

The Philippine unemployment rate surged to 17.7% in April, the highest since the government adopted new definitions for the Labor Force Survey in 2005. This translates to 7.25 million unemployed, or more than three times the 2.27 million unemployed a year earlier.

The Health department also said that it is expanding the priority list of workers for testing to include more employees in tourism, manufacturing, and public service providers.

ECOP does not oppose the measure if the cost of testing is shouldered by the government.

“It becomes an entirely different story if business will be made to do so.” — Jenina P. Ibañez