Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, apparently sympathizing with nurses in the private sector, especially those working in 5-star hospitals amid reports of exploitation, encouraged them Tuesday to go on strike.
Bello, who strongly recommended pay increase for private medical workers, in an interview with TeleRadyo, condemned the widely-known practice of nurses paying hospitals to be able to work and gain experience, a vital requisite for those wanting to work overseas and earn decent pay.
"That's why I encourage nurses to go on strike so that these 5-star hospitals won't be able to operate. The hospitals are big, they earn big then their nurses have to pay P6,000, P10,000 a month... I tell the nurses to go on strike. Raise the value of your profession," he said.
"Nurses in the private sector are not just underpaid, they are also exploited.”
Bello said they were formulating a proposal to raise the private medical workers' pay and make it comparable with the amount received by their counterparts in government-affiliated facilities.
"I agree 100 percent with our nurses that they are underpaid and that is the reason why we came up with a proposal recommending the raising of the salaries of nurses and medical workers in the private sector to the level of nurses and medical workers in the public sector," he said.
This year, a Department of Budget and Management circular set the rules for the upgrading of the entry-level Nurse I position to Salary Grade 15 as stated in Republic Act No. 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002.
The provision of the law setting the minimum salary for entry-level nurses has not been implemented over the last 18 years and is only being funded for this year after the Supreme Court upheld its validity through an en banc decision.
Meanwhile, Bello said the 5,000 limit per year on the deployment of Filipino nurses abroad would only cover new hires and would not be a permanent policy, clarifying earlier reports that the deployment cap included returning workers.
“The cap does not cover the balik-manggagawa (returning workers), it only covers the new hires. The limit is only for the new applicants,” Bello said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel.
The deployment of health workers was approved by President Duterte last week due to the clamor of thousands of medical workers wanting to work abroad, citing the low salary they receive here in the country compared to other countries.
However, the government put a cap on the number of health workers allowed to leave for employment abroad so that they could serve the countrymen to stop the spread of COVID 19.
“We just have to make a cap, put up a cap, in order to ensure that if this pandemic situation worsens, will we have enough nurses to attend to the medical needs of our own countrymen,” he added.
At the same time, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) confirmed that the processing of applications of foreign governments of job orders for health care workers in the Philippines will now resume following the lifting of the deployment ban.
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said it had also started accepting applications from foreign employers who want to hire Filipino HCWs following the lifting of the deployment ban.
“We have started accepting applications especially of foreign workers who want to hire nurses),” he added.
The POEA, Olalia added, has also started receiving applications for additional job orders of accredited foreign employers.
While POEA has lifted the deployment of Filipino HCWs, Olalia said that the Philippine government “will not allow that there will be problems when it comes to our own healthcare system” – especially in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.