“The patients are increasing but the manpower is not. With this kind of set up, health workers, who are mostly overworked, are vulnerable to mistakes.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Under the heat of the scorching sun, health workers, some just finished long hours of work, marched from the office of the Department of Health to the Chino Roces bridge carrying banners bearing their long time call: “Ipaglaban ang nakabubuhay na sahod!” (Fight for a living wage!) on National Health Workers Day on Monday, May 7.
They said that for the past years, they have been calling for a significant wage increase but to no avail.
The last time they had a wage increase was in 2016 when then President Aquino signed Executive Order No. 201 or the Salary Standardization Law. The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said that under the present administration of President Duterte, their salaries are not any more sufficient to meet their basic needs especially when the government implemented the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law (TRAIN Law).
The group noted that with the TRAIN law, their salary’s buying capacity has decreased by 23 percent.
“Health workers deserve a salary increase,” said AHW president Robert Mendoza. They are calling for a P16, 000 ($308) national minimum wage for public and private hospitals. Health workers in private hospitals, he said, are more exploited as they receive salaries as low as P8,000 ($154) a month.
They are also calling for an end to contractualization in the public health sector. According to Mendoza, there are more than 13,000 contractual health workers, including administration personnel, janitors, medical technologists and even nurses.
According to AHW, contractualization in government hospitals is massive. There are 180 housekeeping workers who are outsourced at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center and 400-600 contractual health workers at hospitals that are Government Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCC).
Massive lay-off in 2019
But health workers are facing another battle as contractual workers or those hired under job orders (JO) and contracts of service (COS) are facing a looming lay-off at the end of the year.
Joint Circular No. 1 series of 2017 released by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Commission on Audit (COA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) states that the hiring of JO and COS workers in the government sector will be transferred to private manpower agencies after Dec. 31, 2018.
At present, JOs and COS have been hired directly by government agencies.
The joint circular covers all national government agencies, Government-Owned or Controlled Corporations (GOCC), state universities and colleges and Constitutional bodies that have JO and COS workers.
The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) called this as an institutionalization of contractualization. It said there is no guarantee that these workers will be regularized.
In the health sector, 13,000 contractual employees would be affected by the joint circular. Among them is “Choy” (real name withheld due to request) 30-year old nursing aid at the National Kidney and Transplant institute (NKTI). He has been a COS worker for three years. He has one child who is an incoming grade one pupil.
Choy said there is no word yet from the management about the contractuals’ fate at the end of this year. However he is appealing to the government to consider those who dedicate their service to the government and their patients. He said he too works for 12 hours, sometimes 15, and attends to the patients’ needs. Hospitals, he said, sometimes go beyond the ideal ratio of nursing aid to patient. “Sometimes we attend to 30 patients,” he told Bulatlat.
Benjie Santos, AHW secretary general, said that if the joint circular would be implemented by the end of the year, there would a great impact on the delivery of quality health services.
“It is not only contractual workers who will be affected by this joint circular but the services too,” he told Bulatlat in an interview.
At the country’s premier government hospital the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), where Santos works as a nursing attendant, there are 292 JO workers and 386 COS workers. He said there are more patients now as President Duterte has allotted a P100 million per month subsidy for medicines and laboratories but did not add funds to hire enough manpower to provide quality health care services.
“The patients are increasing but the manpower is not. With this kind of set up, health workers, who are mostly overworked, are vulnerable to mistakes,” he said. Therefore, he added, there are more complaints against the health workers who could not perform well on their duties and responsibilities due to understaffing.
“This would mean the degradation of quality of health services not only in PGH but also in other government hospitals,” he said.
The AHW, together with unions across the country, vowed to fight the joint circular.
“This day, we call on our fellow health workers, the patients who we serve, and the Filipino people, to work together and fight for our right to live and right to health. This is our commitment, this is our fight,” said Mendoza.