At the Tondo General Hospital, one ward, which has up to 80 patients, has only three nurses on duty.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Progressive health groups gathered for the commemoration of the annual National Health Workers Day on May 8, Monday to press government to respond to their long time demands: living wage, end to contractualization and increase in the budget for government hospitals and health service.
Health workers’ unions in public and even private hospitals under the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) marched from España Avenue to the foot of Chino Roces bridge (former Mendiola bridge). They lamented that the government has increased the salaries of armed personnel but has neglected those who have been caring for the Filipino people – the health workers.
“Despite all the hardships, we Filipino health workers vow and continue to serve the Filipino people and yet the government remains callous to the interests of health workers and the patients we serve. We demand what is justly due us”, said AHW president Robert Mendoza.
Mendoza said health workers continue to endure long hours of work due to worsening understaffing and streamlining in hospitals, contractualization, inadequacy of hospital budget, and consequently, low wages and violations of union rights.
The groups also called on the government to junk neoliberal policies, the root cause of the suffering of health workers and the Filipino people.
Precarious work condition
At Tondo General Hospital (TGH) the ratio of nurse to patient is far from the standard 1:12. Registered nurse Desiree Reyes said that because the hospital is understaffed, the usual nurse to patient ratio is 1:50 up to 80. One ward, which has up to 80 patients, has only three nurses on duty.
A nurse would sometimes be on duty up to 24 hours. But lately, there has been a slight change, she said, as the administration has hired contractual workers. She said they now only stay on duty up to 16 hours, still beyond the eight-hour work.
Aside from attending to patients, Reyes said they also do other tasks ever since the hospital passed the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). Nurses also take care of the records, remind patients to avail of Philhealth benefits, as well as follow up their enrollment to the No Balance Billing of Philhealth because the billing department has only one staff on duty. Nurses are also in charge of disinfecting equipment and areas and other technical tasks.
“They (administration) hired workers, but our workloads were not lessened,” she told Bulatlat in an interview. Reyes, 45, is a single mother to her two sons.
“Workloads definitely eat our time that is why we cannot go home after eight hours of work. Good thing both my sons already graduated,” she said.
She also said TGH patients have been increasing after the hospital’s improvement. Their OPD (out-patient department) patients reach up top 300 a day.
Fighting against contractualization
George Hilario, president of the Metropolitan General Hospital Employees Association decry the massive contractualization in private hospitals.
In private hospitals, health workers are greatly exploited as most of them are hired as contractual only, in worse cases with salaries lower than what their counterpart in public hospitals receive. He said they support the call for the P750 ($39) daily minimum wage for all employees in the private sector.
Hilario also proved the strength of collective action and consistency to their stand and principles in fighting for their rights. He said last year, more than 300 employees of Metropolitan General Hospital were regularized through voluntary arbitration. He said their struggle was not a walk in the park as it also took series of negotiations between the hospital administration and the union.
He said union leaders should assert that contractual employees in hospitals be regularized because they are necessary in the hospital. “A hospital will not function if not for its employees, and under the law, employees with necessary and desirable duties should be regularized,” he said.
But even then, he said, they have received reports that the administration is still hiring contractual workers. He said like their struggle for the regularization of the 300 employees, they would assert and fight for their regularization.
No change as long as ‘rotten system’ is in place
Sean Velchez, nurse and president of the National Orthopedic Hospital Employees Union said all these are still being endured by health workers because the “old rotten system” still exists. Speaking at the program in Mendiola, he blamed neoliberal policies of privatization and commercialization of social services that have been implemented by past administrations and continued by the present as the reason behind the Filipino people’s suffering.
As long as neoliberal policies are still in place, government only favors big businesses and landlords, and there will be no real change for the people, Velchez said. Under this system, he said, salaries remain low, and there will be more contractual employees, while unions are being repressed and abolished.
He pointed out that beyond their work conditions and economic woes, the struggle of health workers is always alongside with the rest of the Filipino people.