“While we continuously care for people’s health amid health risks, the government continuously fails to honor its commitment to implement the Philippine Nursing Law of 2002 specially the provision on decent wages.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — Michelle Baltar, 22, a young nurse, expressed her frustration about her failure to find employment appropriate to her training. She applied in private and public hospitals but she was not fortunate to be hired.
She said private hospitals where she applied only accept volunteer nurses. She was also not hired in public hospitals because she was told that they do not accept fresh graduates.
Out of frustration, she applied as an agent in a business processing outsourcing (BPO) company and she was hired. But it saddened her even more to know that many nurses like her ended up working in other fields of work very far from what they trained for in four years of college.
According to Filipino Nurses United (FNU), a national organization for nurses’ rights and welfare, there are thousands of nurses like Baltar who are mis-employed or are unemployed due to lack of decent nursing jobs and opportunities in the country. They said the lack in job opportunities forces nurses to take chances working as contractual or volunteer nurses with meager allowance or none, and with little protection.
This is among the issues tackled during the First National Congress of FNU held in Manila on April 14 to 15. The Congress was attended by nurses from other regions who decried their low salaries with no benefits and security of tenure, contractualization, and political patronage.
Eleanor Nolasco, a registered nurse and FNU convener, said they challenge national candidates to address the issues plaguing nurses. She said nurses are playing a vital role in the delivery of health care to the Filipino people, but they are treated like slaves: they work long hours serving the sick, who number more than the Department of Health-prescribed 1: 12 nurse to patient ratio.
The group demanded that the government heeds their calls: to implement a P25,000 ($540) starting salary for nurses in public and private hospitals, regularize contractual nurses, and offer decent jobs and better working conditions for the nursing profession.
In Cebu, the Cebu Maternity Hospital (CMH) stopped its operation since Jan. 29 after a deadlock in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations.
Daisy Palacio, 30, a registered nurse for seven years in CMH, said they have been negotiating for a P20 ($0.43) per day wage increase for 2015 and P25 ($.54) in 2016. While the management agreed to this last year during the negotiation, it retracted after a week. Instead, the management offered a P1 increase for 2015 and zero increase in 2016. The CMH Employees Independent Union rejected the offer.
Palacio said the management claims that the hospital cannot grant the increase because the hospital is not earning enough to cover the wage increase.
However, Palacio said documents in the Securities and Exchange Commission reveal otherwise. According to the Visayas Human Development Agency, Inc., a support institution for the labor sector based in Cebu City, the hospital has a P207 million ($4.5 million) fund balance in its 2014 Financial Statement.
The hospital has stopped admitting patients on Jan. 29 declaring “temporary cessation of operations due to labor conflict and impending strike.”
The employees, including Palacio is on strike up to now.
Palacio lamented that it has been more than 10 years since the management had implemented a wage increase. She said she is still able to cope with her family’s financial needs as her husband works overseas. However, she said, nurses who are breadwinners of their families are greatly suffering due to the illegal stoppage of the hospital’s operation.
Meanwhile, Grace Selis, a registered nurse based in Zamboanga, said nurses in the province receive P175 a day ($3.75). Nurses cannot protest their unjust conditions out of fear of losing their jobs. They are also prohibited by the city mayor from conducting any form of protest against the local government.
She also decried harassment of nurses working in the far-flung areas as they are tagged as members of the New People’s Army (NPA). “Nurses in the community are being tailed by soldiers even if they have already showed their licenses. Is this the ‘daang matuwid’ of President Aquino?” Selis said.
Call to national candidates
For this election, the nurses call on national candidates to include the health professionals in their platform. They showed their strength in a unity march on April 14, all clad in their white uniform.
“We call on the national candidates not to neglect the nursing workforce and implement our just demands once placed into office. While we continuously care for people’s health amid health risks, the government continuously fails to honor its commitment to implement the Philippine Nursing Law of 2002 specially the provision on decent wages,” said Nolasco.
Under Section 32 of the law, the minimum base pay of nurses working in public health institutions should not be lower than salary grade 15. But this is not being implemented, said Nolasco. The current salary of nurses in public sector is set at P18,549 ($401) or salary grade 11.
“The law has not served to protect and promote the best interests of nurses because the government and those who run it do not exert the political will to do so,” she added.
The FNU has also been fighting for the rights and welfare of nurses in private hospitals, which comprise roughly two-thirds of the nursing manpower. The group said nurses in private hospitals are in more deplorable and precarious work condition, receiving an average monthly salary of P9,000 to P12,000 ($194 to $259), with heavy workload, erratic and long work hours with no overtime pay or hospitalization benefits.