Villanueva renews call to lift deployment ban on health workers
Health workers tend to patients inside the COVID-19 emergency response medical tents outside the Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila in this undated file photo.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, file

Villanueva renews call to lift deployment ban on health workers

(Philstar.com) - September 16, 2020 - 5:48pm

MANILA, Philippines — Yet another lawmaker is urging the government to lift its deployment ban on health workers who want to work abroad for better pay.

Sen. Joel Villanueva on Wednesday renewed his appeal, saying he had already written twice to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to make the same plea. 

The lawmaker said that when wrote to the IATF on June 18 and August 28, he emphasized the plight of health workers who "are their families' breadwinners, have left their jobs to pursue overseas employment, and have spent considerable time and money to train and prepare for deployment." 

"Supply of healthcare workers is not our government's issue, rather [it is its] ability to put value on their work. There is no doubt that our healthcare workers will choose to stay and serve in our health centers and hospitals if they can be assured of job security and sufficient salaries and benefits," he added in Filipino. 

RELATED: Only 25 nurses applied for DOH emergency hiring program

Senators Risa Hontiveros and Nancy Binay previously made similar appeals to the IATF. 

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate labor committee, noted that between 2012 to 2018, there were 148,832 nurses who passed their licensure exams. 

"This is more than double the total 65,108 nurses currently employed in private and public health facilities," he said, citing health department data. 

The deployment ban covers healthcare professionals who did not have contracts and travel documents as of March 8, 2020. Officials have said that it seeks to ensure that the Philippines has enough health workers as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Duterte weighing his options

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Saturday confirmed that the IATF presented President Rodrigo Duterte with several ways through which he can respond to the concerns of health workers who are covered by the ban. 

"We are communicating with the Office of the President, to President Duterte himself...We have stated in our letter to the president how many nurses would be affected and how many nurses would benefit if we allow those who signed contracts... beyond March [to leave],” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a live online session last Saturday.

“We have provided President Duterte options and let us just wait for the decision of the president regarding this matter,” he added.

Nograles, also the vice chairman of the IATF, did not elaborate on the options but claimed that the issue has been discussed repeatedly in meetings.

“If you do not have work, apply for a job in DOH (Department of Health)... While we are opening additional isolation and quarantine facilities, we would need additional health workers,” he further urged in the meantime. 

RELATED: 'We're calling for help, not a revolution,' health workers tell Duterte

Lawmakers call for better employment terms for health workers

Citing data from a nurses' group, Sen. Villanueva said that there are currently 2,000 nurses affected by the ban. 

He also cited industry figures which show that Filipino nurses are paid the least in ASEAN at an average of P40,381 per month. 

"On the other hand, nurses in Singapore are paid P236,400 a month on the average, according to data aggregator iPrice group," Villanueva said. 

He further urged the government to improve employment terms in the country to incentivize health workers to stay, something both Hontiveros and Binay have called for as well. 

In addition to low salaries and unclear guidelines on the granting of hazard pay, the employment under the emergency hiring program lasts only three months, the senator said. 

Villanueva called the three-month program too short, arguing that there would still be a pandemic within that time frame and emphasizing that the lack of security of tenure offered by the Department of Health. 

"Para lang po silang biktima ng 'endo' (They're like victims of 'endo)," he said, referring to a short-term employment practice in the Philippines which is a form of contractualization. 

READ: UN report: 'Weak' Philippine healthcare system lacks nurses, hospital beds

— Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from Alexis Romero

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