By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Health workers marked the National Health Workers’ Day with a protest action, decrying their poor working conditions.
The group said that while existing Philippine laws recognize their vital role in providing health services to those in need, their present situation is quite the opposite.
“Day in and day out health workers are overworked and underpaid, exposed to all hazards and illnesses, and make do with inadequate supplies and facilities. And most health workers do not receive overtime pay,” said Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) President Robert Mendoza.
No to contractualization
The AHW pointed out the need to stop hiring health workers under a contractual labor scheme and instead hire them as regular workers that may be able to avail benefits.
Putting an end to contractualization was among President Rodrigo Duterte’s promises to the Filipino people when he was still vying for the country’s top position. This has yet to materialize as AHW said contractualization in the health sector even worsened under the present administration.
The group added that in some cases – such as in the Philippine General Hospital – a health worker currently employed there has been under a contractual labor scheme for the past 31 long years. The said employee, being a contractual worker, will not be able to get any retirement benefits.
At the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, on the other hand, contractual workers are already at 367 out of 918 plantilla (regular) positions or more than a third of its entire work force.
Meanwhile, health workers are still enduring very low pay.
Like in many workers’ group in the Philippines, AHW also called for the passage of a national minimum wage, a P750 daily wage, and a P30,000 entry salary for nurses.
Citing the study of independent thinktank Ibon Foundation, AHW said the present daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region, which is pegged at P537 is “way too below” the P1,000 living wage for a family of five.
Their low salaries are further aggravated by the increasing prices of basic goods and services due to the government’s tax reform program.
Witnesses to the poor health services
Health workers also deplored the dire conditions of many poor Filipinos in hospitals, many of whom cannot afford the increasing cost of health services and medicines even in government-run hospitals.
“While corrupt officials in government steal every cent from public coffers, live like kings and queens, get applauded and promotions from the government, ordinary health workers and Filipino people eat noodles and sometimes none,” the AHW’s statement read.
The group pointed out that low wages, contractualization, and budget cuts in the health sector are all but part of the neoliberal policies that are being imposed by both foreign and local businesses in exchange of “gargantuan profits” but at the expense of health workers and Filipinos in need of health services.
Whenever they assert the right of the people to health, the group added that the government attempts to suppress their freedom of expression by tagging them as leftists.
Mendoza added, “we encourage our fellow health workers to actively participate in numbers to pursue the struggle for health workers’ rights, salaries and benefits and free health services of the people.”