Philippines to legislate higher salaries for private nurses to keep them home
A health worker prepares a swabbing booth for mass COVID testing at a Quezon City hospital. A pay upgrade for entry-level nurses in public hospitals gives them a salary of P32,053-P34,801 from the previous P22,316-P24,391.
Michael Varcas
Philippines to legislate higher salaries for private nurses to keep them home
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - September 23, 2020 - 5:03pm

MANILA, Philippines — After twice stopping nurses to leave the country to earn a living abroad, the government is pushing to legislate an increase in salaries of health workers in private hospitals to convince them to permanently stay home.

The bill is up for approval by the interagency task force for emerging infectious diseases (IATF), the body in charge of crafting pandemic-related policies, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said on Wednesday.

“Both private and public nurses meet the same hazards when they exercise their profession,” Bello told reporters in an online briefing. “Hopefully, the IATF will have it certified (as urgent measure) by the president.”

The Philippine Nurses Association, an industry group, has not responded to request for comment as of this posting.

The proposed measure to be submitted to Congress after getting approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, appears to be a long-term fix eyed by government to stop a medical “brain drain” that started a decade ago when nursing courses became popular, but onl felt this year when hospitals were swamped by coronavirus patients.

The bill will be backed by the administration, Bello said, and be different from a pending measure filed by Senator Cynthia Villar at the Senate seeking to set a minimum wage for nurses in private institutions to force them to hike salaries. “One of the reasons why our nurses leave is because they receive starvation pay from hospitals,” he explained.

“We can’t really blame them if they want to work abroad,” he said.

Private healthcare workers had been left out by a budget department order last July that increased the salaries of entry-level nurses in public hospitals up to P34,801 a month. As a result, salaries turned incongruent with existing positions, in such a way that high-ranking nurses in private hospitals now earn as much as those just entering service in public posts. 

To make matters worse for nurses, some of them were also barred to leave the country for greener pastures abroad while the pandemic is raging on. Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte relaxed this ban, but still to cover health workers who did not have complete deployment documents as of August 31.

Bello said not to expect the full lifting of the ban anytime soon. “We want to make sure that if the situation worsens, we have enough skilled medical workers at home,” he said.

The whole point of the deployment ban was to save up medical manpower at home while cases of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) continues to rise. In a bid to attract those nurses prevented from leaving, the government made a call for additional health workers to serve, but as of June only 25 grabbed the job offer, out of the 16,614 positions opened.

In the meantime however, Bello called on private hospitals to pay their employees more. “Those hospitals are earning, they just don't want to share,” he said. 

“They should share their blessings to the workers,” Bello said.

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