“This is a reflection of the current state of the country’s health workers who endure low wages under a privatized health system.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A women’s partylist representative filed a resolution to investigate the labor dispute at a maternity hospital in Cebu City where health workers have been on strike after management forced a lockout or temporary work stoppage since March.
Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Rep. Emmi De Jesus filed House Resolution 2682 on April 4, directing the House Committee on Labor and Employment to conduct an inquiry on the unfair labor practice by the management of Cebu Maternity Hospital (CMH).
The midwives of the CMH Employees Independent Union have sought help from GWP as they decried the lockout as illegal and has not undergone process. On Jan. 29, the hospital management declared “temporary cessation of operations due to labor conflict and impending strike.”
The legislator urged Congress to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation. She said the illegal lockout has violated the rights of its health workers, resulting into the denial of maternal health services to women.
“Gabriela sides with the workers’ view that the one peso wage increase proposal is an insult to the health workers, a heartless response on the part of the management, and a complete disregard of the workers’ right to a decent wage,” said De Jesus.
“This is a reflection of the current state of the country’s health workers who endure low wages under a privatized health system,” De Jesus added.
According to the Visayas Human Development Agency, Inc., (VHDAI) a support institution for the labor sector based in Cebu, the management had rejected the demand by health workers for an increase of P20 ($.43) per day for wages in 2015 and P25 ($.54) per day for 2016. The management claimed that hospital’s financial status has no capacity to give an increase. Instead, the management offered P1 ($.02) increase for wages in 2015 and none for 2016.
The hospital union eventually rejected the offer, which prompted the CMH to declare a work stoppage.
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) condemned the management and expressed support to the striking health workers. The Cebu Maternity Hospital has 12 resident doctors and 130 rank-and-file employees. The Union is an affiliate of the Association of Democratic Labor Organizations-KMU.
“We are revolted by Cebu Maternity Hospital’s brutality towards its employees. It gave them burial wages, not living wages; refused to truly negotiate with them for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement; and is now killing their jobs,” said Nenita Gonzaga, KMU vice-chair for women’s affairs.
’10 years of no wage increase’
Daisy Palacio, a nurse at the Cebu Maternity Hospital said it has been more than 10 years that the management has not granted a wage increase. She said their proposed increase is low enough, and they cannot accept the one peso counter proposal of the management.
The VHDAI said the management, has always claimed during Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations that the hospital is losing money and cannot implement an increase.
But the 2013 financial statement of the CMH showed it has P201 million ($4.36 million) total fund balance. Over P100 million ($2.17 million) were restricted funds for facilities and assistance to indigent patients. A portion of the restricted funds are in time deposits in banks, which have earned P1 million ($21,676), said the VHDAI.
The CMH 2014 Financial Statement showed that the hospital’s fund balance is at P207 million ($4.5 million) which shows that the hospital is not really losing, the group said.
In the past, the CMH only granted the much needed wage increase and benefits for the employees of the hospital only after the workers went on protest. In 1997, the collective action of the workers won them the P10 to P15 peso increase for the years 1997-1999. This included additional benefits, such as two days of rest days per week, overtime pay hike, granting of longevity pay and additional days for vacation and sick leave.
In 2004, the management granted another wage increase of P10 to P15, and since then has refused to grant another round of increase.
According to the VHDAI, the highest paid employee of the maternity hospital receives P13,000 ($282) less government mandated benefits. A regular employee takes home P10,000 ($22) a month.
Non-appearance of management in the negotiations
The CBA negotiations on March 25, 2015 would have been a success if the management did not retract from what they have agreed upon, which was the P20 per day increase for 2015 and P25 for 2016.
Palacio said on April 8, after the Holy Week, the management said it can only grant a peso per day increase for 2015 and zero increase for 2016. The negotiation was still ongoing and the management had offered P4 ($.09) increase for 2015, but still zero increase for 2016. The union decided to lower its demand to P10 per day increase in 2015 and P15 per day increase for 2016. But the management still refused.
Palacio said since last year the management refused to sit in the negotiating table. In December 2015, the union brought their case to the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) in Cebu. The NCMB has not issued any ruling on the issue.
The management’s non-appearance in the negotiation has led the union to file a notice of strike on Jan. 4, 2016.
“The basis of the union’s action is the management’s unfair labor practice, particularly on bargaining in bad faith and violating the duty to bargain collectively and utter disrespect of the management to the union,” the VDHAI said.
On Jan. 29, the management declared a “temporary cessation of operations due to labor conflict and impending strike.” The hospital stopped receiving patients beginning Feb. 4, but the employees still come to work and received their salary. But on March 16, Palacio said they were prohibited to come to work and their salaries were withheld.
“What the management did was all illegal. They did not file a notice of closure or any legal document to the concerned government agency like the Department of Health,” Palacio said in an interview with Bulatlat.
On March 18, the VDHAI said the union had escalated their protest to a hunger strike to condemn the injustice against them. Up to now, the workers are still on strike and the hospital has not resumed operations.
Palacio said that although their hospital is private, services are at an affordable price. The VDHAI data revealed that on the average, the hospital receives 25,000 patients, mostly pregnant women, every year.
Palacio also urged the government to intervene in the labor dispute in the CMH. She said the GWP was the first to have acted on their issue. The Department of Health main office in Manila has now also ordered an investigation when it was informed by the GWP after De Jesus filed the resolution.