Health workers from various regions joined the protest against the privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center, and for wage hikes.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Health workers walked and danced to protest the looming privatization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), and also to push their longtime call for salary increase.
At 5 a.m. today, Friday, April 17, health workers gathered along D. Tuazon street in Quezon Avenue and walked to Welcome Rotunda. They danced to the beat of The Jerks’s “Sayaw sa bubog” and held a short program there. They then marched to the POC.
The protest was part of the recently-concluded National Congress of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
“We are here to support your call against privatization of the POC, the only hospital in the Philippines specializing in bone diseases,” said Violeta Santiago of the Quirino Medical Center and a member of the AHW.
Santiago said that health workers from the Quirino Provincial Medical Center, which is too far away from Manila, also refer patients with bone illnesses or problems to the POC because this is where they can get the appropriate services they needed.
She added that when she had a spine problem, she also went to the POC to have her back consulted.
“If the POC will be privatized, what will happen to the patients (from the province) who have spent all their money on their transportation fares, add to that the medicines, food and accommodation here in Manila? Then the additional payment for consultation. What will happen to the poor patients? Will they just die?” Santiago said.
Edwin Huervana from the West Visayas State University Medical Center, also a member of the AHW, meanwhile encouraged the health workers to keep on with the fight against privatization of POC. He said their hospital was also put in the same situation when former Iloilo Representative and now acting Health Secretary Janette Garin filed a bill corporatizing West Visayas State University Medical Center (WVSUMC).
In 2011, the bill was already approved by the House of Representatives and was transmitted to the Senate. Through the strong opposition of the workers and consistent lobbying against the bill, it was not signed into law and the WVSUMC remained a government hospital.
The WVSUMC is a tertiary hospital that caters to patients from Aklan, Antique, Capiz and Guimaras.
The group also stressed that once the POC is privatized, employees and health professionals will become contractual and there will be no more security of tenure. Nurses who are currently working as contractuals will never have a chance to be regular employees, the group said.
Contractualization is increasing in various forms such as job orders, casuals, volunteers or trainees. The contractual health workers receive much lower wages, at no work-no pay basis of income, and no security of tenure.
Santiago said that at the Quirino Provincial Medical Center, a 100-bed capacity hospital is only manned by 30 regular staff and the rest are contractuals. For half a decade, these contractuals have beein receiving only P6,000 ($134) as monthly salary. Volunteers who do tasks of regular employees do not receive anything except free meals.
“What is worse is that to qualify as a contractual, one has to be a volunteer in the hospital for two years first,” Santiago said.
The group also pressed for the national minimum wage of P16,000 ($359) and P25,000 (561) upon entry for nurses in the public and private sector.
Robert Mendoza, AHW secretary general, said, “We demand that there should be a national minimum wage increase so that all health workers, in government and private sector can have a decent living through just compensation. Contractualization should be banned.”