COVID-19 task force urged to lift deployment ban on health workers
File — Healthcare workers wave to residents of an adjacent condominium who showed support to frontliners.
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COVID-19 task force urged to lift deployment ban on health workers

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - September 9, 2020 - 11:09am

MANILA, Philippines — Another lawmaker called on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to lift the deployment ban on health workers. 

"Together with labor groups and nurses organizations, I reiterate their request that the deployment ban be lifted. Let the health workers, who have not been able to work for months," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino on Wednesday. 

Hontiveros said she wrote to IATF Chairman and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as well as IATF Co-Chair and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles to urge that they reconsider the ban. 

"Currently, thousands of healthcare workers awaiting deployment stand to be affected," Hontiveros emphasized. 

While the senator said she understood the need to prioritize the country's health care capabilities, she also "empathizes with the plight of health workers who after going through the tedious process of trainings and securing necessary documentary requirements and permits, will only get barred from leaving the country." 

The IATF early on August 18 reinforced the restriction on medical workers from seeking job overseas.

The ban, which was announced by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, is contained under IATF Resolution No. 64. 

On August 20, Malacañang announced that health workers who were able to secure employment contracts as of March 8 would be exempted from the deployment ban.

"Hindi lang oras ang inilaan ng ating mga kababayan para lang makapag-abroad. Marami ang nangutang, nagbenta ng ari-arian para lang masuportahan ang pangarap. They must be allowed to leave." Hontiveros urged.

(Our countrymen did not just give their time to be able to go abroad. Many have borrowed money, sold property just to support the dream. They must be allowed to leave.) 

'Higher wages, better working conditions, more effective than a deployment ban'

Instead of implementing a deployment ban, Hontiveros said the government should implement higher wages and better working conditions for the country's health care workers in order to incentivize them to work locally. 

"Salaries should be increased, overtime pay should be given and their benefits extended. If their welfare is taken care of, there will be no need for a deployment ban in the coming years. We will also strengthen our public health because more health workers will choose to stay. in the country," she said in Filipino.

Citing data from Department of Labor and Employment, Hontiveros highlighted that the entry level nurse's salary ranges from around P8,000 [to] P13,500 per month in the country.

"How can this make a family live? We also have the lowest wage for health care workers in SouthEast Asia. We can't stop them, but we are not giving them a reason to stay," she said in English and Filipino.

"While the reasonable amount of P13.5 [billion] was allocated for the continuous employment of Human Resources for Health and additional benefits for all health care workers under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, I believe the law should also allow health care workers who have already secured employment abroad to be deployed," Hontiveros added.

The senator further argued that the proper implementation of Bayanihan law would make the ban unnecessary and help the country increase its number of nurses, doctors, and other allied health workers. 

'Over 50,000 medical professionals not practicing their craft'

Sen. Nancy Binay on August 27 similarly called on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the IATF to lift the deployment ban on the country's healthcare workers.

Alternatively, if the government refuses to lift the ban, Binay said it should then ensure competitive salaries for healthcare workers in the country.

She further cited data from the Department of Health which showed that there are more than 750,000 licensed medical professionals in the country, "including dentists, med technologists, pharmacists, physicians, and midwives."

"Of this number, only 204,437 are active in the health sector, meaning more than 500,000 licensed medical professionals are not practicing their craft," Binay said.

"If the government is unable to give work and sufficient compensation to our healthcare workers, it doesn't seem right that we deny them the opportunity to give their families good lives," she said in Filipino.

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