A SENATE BILL is proposing to require free coronavirus testing for all jobseekers.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara filed Senate Bill No. 2291 which will require the government to pay for testing costs of those seeking employment.

“Through this proposed measure, the government by covering the additional pre-employment cost (of) COVID-19 tests, promotes the safety of jobseekers and ensures the sustainability of businesses and jobs by subsidizing the COVID-19 testing especially for the micro, small and medium enterprises,” he said in the bill’s explanatory note.

“Through this policy, we are not only recognizing the importance of ensuring the safety and health of our entire workforce but we are also providing equal employment opportunities for younger cohorts and those who became unemployed during the pandemic to enter the labor market,” he added.

Mr. Angara cited the World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2021 report by the International Labor Organization released in June which estimated that the pandemic resulted in the loss of 8.8% of total working hours in 2020 or the equivalent of the hours worked in one year by 255 million full-time workers.

Unemployment in the Philippines was 8.7% in April, representing about 4.14 million jobless. The rate rose from 7.1% in March, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The bill will require the Health department, in cooperation with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to provide free and accessible coronavirus testing for jobseekers.

The measure covers first-time jobseekers, unemployed persons actively seeking work, and displaced workers who were terminated for various acceptable reasons, including the pandemic.

Testing centers are to allocate a percentage of their daily testing slots for jobseekers covered by the bill.

The DoLE and DTI in a memorandum circular in August clarified that coronavirus testing is not recommended nor required for employees without symptoms who are returning to work.

Mr. Angara also noted that while there is free coronavirus testing offered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., it is only limited to at-risk individuals with severe and mild symptoms with travel histories or contact with known victims, healthcare workers, senior citizens, and returning overseas Filipino workers. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas