'Unjust, irrational': Nurses seek lifting of new halt on overseas deployment

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
'Unjust, irrational': Nurses seek lifting of new halt on overseas deployment
In this April 2020 photo, medical workers are seen screening patients for possible COVID-19 before admission at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino nurses pressed government on Tuesday to lift its order halting their deployment abroad, saying it will not address the lack of health workers at home during the pandemic.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration early this month ordered the new suspension after its cap of sending 5,000 nurses per year was met. 

Such was part of the Duterte administration's pandemic response to have more medical personnel respond to the crisis at home.

In a statement, the Filipino Nurses United called the said policy as "unjust and irrational" and instead called for mass hiring of nurses in the country. 

"FNU views the ban as ill-advised and unnecessary since government data show the country has enough number of nurses to sufficiently meet the country's health needs even in this time of pandemic," the group said.

Citing data from the Professional Regulations Commission, FNU said there were over 580,000 nursing board passers from 2000 to 2019. 

Some 272,000 from the figure had gone abroad while 100,000 were locally employed, leaving more than 200,000 who could be tapped for COVID-19 response.

It noted too that only 8,056 health workers were hired out of 10,000 vacant posts during government's emergency hiring from April to September 2020. FNU said 2,701 nurses were hired on a contract-of-service basis, and by May of this year, left DOH with only 3,904 nurses in the said program.

"We propose mass hiring of nurses with provisions of just, living wage, decent benefits and job security," the group said, adding its call to hire 42,000 nurses or one nurse for every barangay, and additional 6,000 nurses in government health facilities. 

FNU added: "It is unfair and even hypocritical for this government to call on our nurses to sacrifice, even tugging on their sense of nationalism to serve at this time, when our nurses have long sacrificed and have been oppressed with 'starvation wages and poor work conditions' even before the pandemic."

Keeping the cap

Over ANC's "After the Fact," POEA chief Bernard Olalia said the cap is unlikely to be increased any time soon.

He said the DOH was for retaining it at 5,000 as it remains trying to fill a gap of nurses at home, while PRC said there had been no licensure exams since last year. 

"From the side of the Commission on Higher Education, we have no graduates yet because there were no in-person classes," Olalia added in Filipino. "We will wait for further developments before we recommend for an increase."

Still, he said they have submitted proposals to the pandemic task force for some exemptions. Apart from allowing government-to-government deployment, Olalia said they recommended to allow nurses who had served for six months either in government or private facilities to leave.

"It's now with the IATF to approve that policy so that we will give opportunities to nurses also to get employment abroad," he added.

FNU said that while government views the deployment halt as a temporary measure, it is feared to send more social and economic problems to nurses and their families, especially those who have already spent a lot on processing applications. 

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