A nurses’ organization on Friday called on the government to release their retroactive pay since January 2020, in compliance with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea’s June 1, 2021 memorandum setting the salary of entry-level nurses to Salary Grade 15 (P32,000) from Salary Grade 11 (P22,000).
This developed as health workers from the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital and Fabella Hospital held a noontime protest action calling for the Department of Health (DOH) to immediately return and release their budget for meals, accommodation, and transportation benefits for public and private health workers under the Bayanihan Law 2.
In a statement, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said Medialdea’s memorandum is consistent with the October 2019 Supreme Court decision setting the base pay for nurses in government institutions at Salary Grade 15 as provided under the 2002 Philippine Nursing Act.
“We urge the government to ensure that all nurses in public sector enjoy the upgrade of entry salary to SG 15 for beginner nurses with Nurse 1 positions, including those in local government units and those without employee-employer relationship, with retroactive pay since January 2020 as stipulated in DBM Circular 2020-4,” the FNU said.
Medialdea’s memo reversed the Department of Budget and Management circular, which demoted those with Nurse 2 to 7 rank to one rank lower even as they retained their salary prior to demotion.
“We also appeal that the estimated P3,000 increase in SG 16 for Nurse 2 positions contained in the OP circular dated June 1 (Medialdea memo) and likewise be made retroactive to January 2020,” FNU said.
The group said the nurses have waited for their salary increase for almost two decades, given the Nursing law providing the salary had been passed way back in 2002.
“The salary upgrading for nurses is long overdue. It took 18 years for the momentous implementation of the Nursing Law of 2002 while no significant wage increase has ever been implemented for majority of government nurses and it is even worse for those in the private sector,” they said.
“We savor our victory to overturn the ‘demotion’ of nurses and gain strength in our growing numbers so we can stand up to the bigger challenges ahead. We will continue with the campaign for just salary, decent benefits and safe and humane work conditions with job security for all nurses in both public and private sectors,” they said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the prospective application of the Medialdea memo can be funded by the Health department’s 2021 budget.
However, he said the funding source for the retroactive pay would still have to be resolved.
On June 1, the Office of the President finally signed the grant of cash equivalent of meal, transportation, and accommodation benefits to health workers from September 2020 to December 19, 2020.
“Just like any other benefits, our fight for meals, accommodation and transportation allowance has not been easy. The implementation of the said benefit was not consistent. Various hospital managements had different interpretations of the DOH guidelines,” said Cristy Donguines, President of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Employees Union-Alliance of Health Workers (JRRMMCEUA-AHW).
“But because of our strong unity, collective action, and continuous and tireless insistence the Duterte government was pressured to finally approve our demand to grant cash equivalent for this benefit,” she added.
However, Donguines said the fight for this benefit is not yet over because the appropriated funds for the benefit were returned by the management of various hospitals like Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, San Lazaro Hospital and Fabella Hospital per a DOH order.
Last December 7, 2020, DOH released Department Order No. 2020-0759 setting the “Guidelines for the Release, Utilization, Liquidation and Reporting of Funds to Cover Benefits of Healthcare Workers in Response to COVID-19 Health Emergency.”
The initial sub-allotted funds of P2,156,120,480 for life insurance, meals, accommodation, and transportation covers the period of September 2020 to December 2020, and the DOH required the hospitals to utilize the funds until December 31, 2020.
The sub-allotment was withdrawn immediately by the DOH from some government hospitals, even though health workers did not even receive the benefits yet.
Unfortunately, because of the department order signed by DOH Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, hospital managements of Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center returned P56 million to the DOH, and Fabella Hospital returned P58 million without consulting the health workers.
The group said during the dialogue of DBM, DOH and AHW unions last June 2, DOH admitted “the supposedly appropriated budget for this benefit was already utilized for the purchase of vaccines and other health needs.”
“The DO signed by Usec Vega is unreasonable, unjust and inhumane to health workers. We are upset because what the management of our hospital and the DOH did severely insult us. We were not able to enjoy the benefit that is intended for us,” Donguines stated.
“Thus, we demand from the DOH that the benefit must be immediately returned and released to us. Those funds are reimbursement on what we spent on food, accommodation, and transportation last September to December 2020. In fact, it is only a consolation to the risk that we face in battling the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.