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Just get to work

A European court has ruled that time spent traveling to and from work should be counted as part of actual work done, and that companies should pay employees for time spent on the road, as well.

The case originated in Spain, where a company that installs security systems decided to shut down its regional offices in 2011. As a result, employees of the company had to travel greater distances from their houses to their work appointments.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the workers’ journeys stemmed directly from the employer’s move to abolish the regional offices, not from their own decision. “Requiring them to bear the burden of their employer’s choice would be contrary to protecting the safety and health of workers.”

A European Union directive says no workers should work beyond 48 hours a week and guarantees a minimum rest period.

It is tempting to say we wish the same applied to the Philippines, or at least in Metro Manila where the traffic has reached crisis proportions of late.

But the circumstances are just too different beyond the surface. There is no single private employer that decided to close a conveniently located office and forced its workers to travel further just to get to their place of work.

There is no demand, too, that employers here pay for the hours spent by their workers on the road. Some of them live near the premises, some of them don’t. It is expected they put in their usual hours regardless of where they live.

What there is, is a government that is supposed to make traveling to and from work, or schools, at least a bearable daily experience, but is failing spectacularly at it.

The people using the roads and public transportation are neither the poor that local politicians coddle during elections, nor the rich who fund their campaigns. The workers who struggle every day are those who eke out a living from their fixed wages—taxed, by the way, at the same rate as the earnings of the handful of billionaires in this country.

These are the people who find themselves in the limbo between being with their loved ones and getting some real work done at their workplaces. They get angry, they rant, they take to social media, but they do it all again the following day—because they need their jobs, and because their government gives them no choice.

As the candidates declare their intentions to seek the high posts in government, let them be reminded of—bombarded by—images of how ordinary workers are punished by flooding, by traffic, and by the inefficiency of public transportation.   

We just want to work—contribute a bit to society, create something out of nothing, earn a decent living and envision a more comfortable life for our children. Our time and energy are finite, and we do not want to see them go to waste because of your apathy or ineptitude.

A plea: just allow us to work better—by getting to work, yourself.

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