Like many Filipinos, the leaders of various health workers and health professionals in the public health sector said they dream of having a decent house, enrolling their children in quality schools, and providing for their family’s basic needs like food, clothing and recreation. But sadly, they could not make both ends meet.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Philippines is a ranking exporter of nurses in the world, but a “modest estimate” of a nurses’ organization places the number of currently unemployed Filipino nurses in the country at 280,000. Yet, amid the seeming surplus of nurses, many Philippine public hospitals sorely lack nurses. Why is this so?
Answering it properly would require a hard look at the condition of the country’s public health care system. A festering problem afflicting the public health care system is the working conditions of health care workers. Thus, the public health sector launched an alliance last Wednesday November 10 to press the government for “decent wages, so we could give more improved services.”
Leaders of health workers’ organizations launched an alliance Nov 10 (Photo by Jaime Sanone de Guzman/Kodao Productions)
“We are the doctors, nurses and health workers in public hospitals, health clinics and institutions. We are committed to serving Filipino patients amid the low health budget, understaffing, inadequate equipment and facilities, and inadequate salaries and benefits,” the united health sector said in a statement.
Like many Filipinos, the leaders of various health workers and health professionals in the public health sector said they dream of having a decent house, enrolling their children in quality schools, and providing for their family’s basic needs like food, clothing and recreation. But sadly, they could not make both ends meet because of their increasingly inadequate salaries and benefits amid the “harsh realities of worsening economic conditions and increasing costs of basic commodities.”
Rampant Shortages and Shortchanging
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said since the number of plantilla positions for government nurses was pegged at 20,000 in 1985, there has been no increase, up to this day, despite the millions more that were added to the Filipino population after 25 years.
This is symptomatic of government neglect of both the public health and the front line people attending to it the public health workers, said Emma Manuel, RMT, president of AHW.
Despite the health sector having successfully struggled to cause the enactment of laws addressing the needs of the sector, such as the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers and the Philippine Nursing Act, its implementation is always being snagged by the government excuse of “subject to availability of funds” that were “never made available, anyway.”
Unreachable basics (Photo by Jaime Sanone de Guzman/Kodao Productions)
As such, a health worker today in salary grade 1 in public hospital earns only P7,575 ($173) a month. Nurses who are supposed to be given at least P24,887 ($569), the wage allotted for salary grade 15, as provided for by the Nursing Act of 2002, receives only P15,649 ($353), the amount being received by those in salary grade 11. “These are below the minimum cost of living of almost P30,000 ($686) set by the government itself,” said Manuel.
Apart from the rampant downgrading of health professionals, government nurses are hired under “job orders” and various contractual arrangements. This practice has also resulted in the further lowering of their salaries.
In Quirino province, two casual nurses are being made to work under the item of a utility worker, sharing the amount of P160 to P170 ($3.66 to $3.89) pay per day between them, said Leah Paquiz, RN, president of Ang Nars and member of the Health Sector United for Wage Fight.
“The Salary Standardization Law-3 raised the nurses’ entry-level position to Salary Grade 11 only, still a far cry from the Salary Grade 15 as stipulated in the Nursing Act,” said Dr. Teresita Barcelo, president of Philippine Nurses Association and member as well of Health Sector United for Wage Fight.
Dr Barcelo said even if nurses still wanted to remain in the country to serve fellow Filipinos, they are being shooed abroad as there is “no justice here…” She said “there is no plantilla item for nurses. We are volunteering to work in hospitals but we are being asked to pay for it!”
Doctors employed as ‘casuals’ receive P14,000 ($320) a month. Whether working under a contractual or permanent status, doctors receive low salaries, causing their demoralization and for some, their departure for overseas jobs, said Dr. Fresco Yapendon, president of Philippine Association of Medical Specialists (PAMS).
Yapendon said his group is one with the Health Sector United for Wage Fight, reasoning that not only the health workers but the public as patients will benefit as well from the proposed wage hike of the health sector.
Relying on Collective Strength
The health sector leaders are calling for a minimum of P6,000 (($137) increase in the minimum pay of public health workers, an upgrading to salary grade 15, or a salary of P24,887 ($569), for nurses, and to salary grade 24, or a salary of P50,000 ($1,143), for doctors. All these are on top of the amounts they stand to receive under the SSL-3, which the health leaders said have been eroded already even before they began receiving it.
“We launch our struggle for substantial wage and salary increase in these times when the economic crisis is so worse we barely make ends meet, and more than 3,000 Filipinos go abroad everyday to work,” the united health sector said in their statement.
For the 17,000 public health midwives under the local government units, the proposed minimum wage hike of P6,000 ($137) will go a long way, especially since more responsibility in public health care have been falling on the shoulders of midwives as the lack of health personnel worsens in local government. According to Cecille Banca-Santos, president of Philippine League of Government and Private Midwives, they will take part in the Health Sector United for Wage Fight and their actions will show in local government unit levels.
Banca-Santos said salaries of local midwives vary from one local government unit to another. She added that experience has told them that only through “very strong action” could they get their demands concerning their pay and health programs from the local government.
Banca-Santos explained that while the government’s tack of working for “universal health care” such as through Philhealth sounds good, “it would not be enough if the pressing needs of those expected to serve these Philhealth cardholders will not be attended to.”
The Health Sector United for Wage Fight vows to follow through its launching with different mass actions. (Bulatlat.com)