By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA — Filipino health workers celebrated Valentine’s Day with a “Black Hearts Day” protest as they called anew for a substantial salary increase and the release of their still unpaid COVID-19 allowances.
“Today, we denounce the DOH and the Marcos Jr administration for its continued negligence when it comes to the well-being of the health workers. Obviously, this administration is not prioritizing the health workers’ welfare and the people’s health. We played a vital role in the public healthcare system and yet we are not valued,” said Robert Mendoza, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers.
The protest was held in front of the Department of Health’s office in Manila.
Health workers also called for an end to contractualization and expressed their opposition to the House Bill 6522, which seeks to establish a Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control (PCDC), saying this may displace health workers working for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and impact the services they provide.
“Worst, the Marcos Jr. administration further aggravates our dismal situation as it continually grips on implementing contractualization of health human resource and depriving us with just and living wage,” Mendoza added.
Not spared from price increases
According to health workers, they are not spared from the increasing prices of food and other staples. Last month, the country recorded another all-time high of an 8.7 percent inflation rate. Yet, the AHW said that their demands for a wage increase have not been met.
“It is timely and reasonable because, in this time of economic crisis, the existing minimum wage can no longer cope with the excessive increase in the prices of basic commodities, weakening purchasing power of peso, and high tax payments being shouldered by the working people like us,” said Ernesto Bulanadi, president of the Tondo Medical Center Employees Association.
Health workers have been pushing for a national minimum monthly wage of P33,000 ($600) for all government employees and P1,100 ($20) per day salary for private workers.
Instead of addressing their concerns, the AHW said that contractualization remains rampant among health workers both in the public and private sector.
Under such a labor contract scheme, the group said they have no security of tenure and their rights often not acknowledged.
The government’s 2022 data revealed that there are 16,951 job order employees and 9,947 contractual health workers under the health department’s Human Resources for Health (HRH). This year, the health department is also slated to hire 26,035 doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and other health-related professionals under the contractual-based National Health Workforce Support program for far-flung communities.
“Ironically, there are 21, 038 vacant plantilla positions in the DOH but DOH does not fill this up. We call on the government to regularize our fellow health workers. Our public hospitals are severely understaffed. Currently the nurse to patient ratio is worse especially now that influx of patients in wards and out-patient department (OPD) are four times more compared to previous years. Health personnel in public hospitals are direly lacking. We need regular health workers for better health services,” Edwin Pacheco, president of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute Employees Association-AHW said.
The AHW said that the government has apparently reneged on its responsibility to the health of the people.
They added, “clearly, the health workers and the entire Filipino people cannot rely on the heartless Marcos Jr. administration. The health workers vow from this day and the days to come, for as long as their heart beats and bleeds for the poor Filipino people, they commit to serve, vow to continue the fight for their rights and the health of the people.”