The right to travel “takes a backseat” to public welfare during the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said in a statement.
This was after the POEA, an agency under the Department of Labor, over the weekend suspended the deployment of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers abroad to “prioritize human resource allocation” as the country fights the COVID-19 disease.
Still, the Department of Foreign Affairs insisted on its opposition to the temporary ban on the overseas deployment of Filipino health workers amid the global pandemic.
On Twitter, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had criticized the suspension of the deployment of healthcare workers— after Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III reminded Locsin the DFA representative on the POEA had approved the ban in a unanimous resolution of the agency’s board.
At the same time, a nurses association on Monday called for the lifting of the ban on overseas employment for health care workers, including nurses, saying this was an ill-conceived decision, underestimating the economic crisis faced by nurses, who are overworked, underpaid and exploited.
The Filipino Nurses United (FNU), in a statement, cited the recently issued Department of Labor and Employment Governing Board Resolution 09 s. 2020 that temporarily suspends the deployment of health care workers.
“These are the real reasons that push them to migrate to other countries. They are driven by the need to save their families from starvation and extreme poverty,” said the FNU.
“That POEA ban violates the IATF resolution protecting OFW contract work abroad from any restriction especially nurses now that their worth will be appreciated even more by their foreign hosts,” Locsin said in his Twitter post.
Describing the POEA’s directive as an “abomination,” Locsin vowed to oppose it in the Cabinet.
Locsin’s objection came after POEA administrator Bernard Olalia said the right to travel “takes a backseat” to public welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The POEA has suspended the deployment of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers abroad to give priority to human resource allocation.
“The right to travel will take a backseat since the general welfare is more important especially during a state of public health emergency,” Olalia said in an interview.
“They have an option to work at local and national health system. They will receive hazard pay,” he added.
The POEA’s suspension on overseas deployment covers doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiologic technicians, medical equipment operators and other health workers.
The agency stressed that the order would remain in effect “until COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination countries.”
FNU said: “On behalf of the affected health care workers, FNU urges the DOLE and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to immediately lift the implementation of suspension on deployment of health care workers.
“Instead, provide just compensation, adequate benefits and ensure humane work conditions so that health care workers including nurses will be encouraged to remain in service to their own country.”
FNU said they recognized that massive hiring of nurses, not as volunteers, with security of tenure, just compensation and benefits was an urgent matter that the government must immediately address, especially now that the country had a shortage of frontline health workers caring for COVID-19 patients.
It said DOLE’s issuance of a deployment ban for all health care workers was not the appropriate and logical solution.
There are almost 200,000 unemployed nurses in the country who could be the main source for a massive hiring, the group said.
There is no need to prevent health care workers from working in other countries.
Majority of them have contracts with their employers in destination countries and they have spent thousands of pesos in processing their travel documents, FNU added.
Other Filipino health care workers are already scheduled to return-to-work in their destination countries after spending their paid vacation leaves with families.
Delay in their travel would prolong the agony of their starving families who are hardly hit by the state of affairs due to COVID-19, the group said.
“This ban on deployment does not even provide alternative measures for the outgoing health care workers such as guaranteeing that their expectant employers abroad will still accept them despite the delay, and economic aid such as full payment or reimbursement of their travel expenses, as well as full compensation for their families while waiting to leave the country,” FNU said.