“The Aquino administration has never increased our salaries, and worse, the number of contractual health workers increased.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Hundreds of health workers marched to Chino Roces (former Mendiola) bridge calling for salary increase, and a stop to hospital privatization and contractualization, as they commemorated National Health Workers’ day on Thursday, May 7.
Hospital unions affiliated with the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said they are holding President Benigno Aquino III accountable for abandoning its obligation to provide basic health care services to the poor with the privatization of major government hospitals such as the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), and for neglecting health care providers.
“The Aquino administration has never increased our salaries, and worse, the number of contractual health workers increased in various forms, such as job orders, casuals, consultants’ trainees and volunteers who do not have security of tenure,” said Robert Mendoza, president of AHW.
The Aquino government’s privatization of health care services and its neglect of the welfare of already underpaid and overworked public health workers would have dire implications on the access of the poor majority to essential health care workers and the health well being of the general population.
Contract of services
The groups asserted that health workers deserve the recognition of the state through just compensation, benefits and job safety and security. This, they said, is consistent with the World Health Organization statement that health workers are a vital workforce in the health care system.
Jojo Gorospe, vice-president of the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Association (JRRMMCEA)-AHW said most health workers in the lower positions such as Administration Aid I or workers under the housekeeping and dietary departments, are those who become contractual workers.
Gorospe said when an employee in these departments gets a regular position, the slot is no longer replaced by another contractual. When the hospital hires again, the new employees will be sub-contracted.
Health workers under the engineering department of the JRRMMC are also sub-contracted, said Gorospe.
An Administation Aid I employee receives the lowest salary in government with P9,000 a month ($202), a far cry from the recommended family living wage of more than P1,000 ($22) a day.
Nurse attendants in the POC are also contractual workers.
“Eric,” a nurse attendant, said he only became a regular employee in October last year, after five years of being a contractual worker. However, he could lose his regular post if the privatisation of POC pushes through.
Health workers also complained of the unreasonably high tax deduction. Myrna Taño, 59, another nursing attendant in POC, said the 32-percent salary tax deduction is unfair.
“We have the lowest salary but we have a high tax deduction. It’s really burdensome,” she told Bulatlat.com.
She receives P11,000 a month ($247) but ever since her five children entered college, she never got hold of her salary.Her ATM has been with a loan shark for years. “I just always renew my loan every time that is why I never get my entire salary at all. That is how our life goes with our measly salary.”
She lamented that there has been no salary increase under Aquino unlike the previous administration where they got yearly 10-percent increase in salary.
Contractual workers, especially those who are under the contract of services, have no benefits and no security of tenure.
“These health workers also have a heavy workload. Without them, a hospital will not function properly. Who will assist patients? Who will carry the oxygen? Who will clean the hospital or change the linen?” said Gorospe.
Contractual workers should be regularized because they do the same work as regular workers, he said.
Aside from the heavy workload, Mendoza said that the contractual workers also suffer extended duty hours without overtime pay. “We are deeply concerned because if our working condition worsens, the level of our care is affected, and may endanger the patient’s safety.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who joined the protest in Mendiola, said the Makabayan bloc has persistently filed bills and resolutions for salary increase and against privatization of 72 hospitals.
Colmenares said that under the Aquino administration, all basic social services are privatized, from education to health. He said service never comes across a businessman’s mind, and is only second or even third to generating profits.
Sean Velchez, president of the POC employees union, said the government’s claim that it has no funds “is a blatant lie” after the pork barrel scam was exposed. He said billions of pesos have been allotted to the lawmakers while the former Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted that there was a total of P11 billion ($247 million) savings for the year 2011 to 2012.
He said the POC project sale to Megawide WorldCiti Consortium costs P5.6 billion ($125 million). “The government has the money if it wants to prioritize people’s health. With privatization, it clearly abandons its primary responsibility of ensuring health care for the people,” Velchez said.
Meanwhile, Benjie Santos, AHW secretary general, called on health workers to be united. “We should continue to organize and strengthen our unions so we could be more solid in our struggle.”