Nurses are planning another protest on Friday to call for the timely payment of salaries and benefits of government health workers, after last week’s demonstration by workers of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) called on its member groups to join their protest on Friday noon at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City.
FNU vice president Leni Nolasco said there has been no improvement in their situation in the past months, which is why they need to speak out.
Since the start of the pandemic, various groups have expressed dismay about the treatment of health workers in both public and private facilities. Besides being at risk for COVID-19, nurses and other health workers have reportedly complained of salary delays.
The PGH health workers who protested last week have reportedly not received their hazard pay and special risk allowance (SRA) for the last six months.
The Department of Health said the budget should come from the University of the Philippines PGH, but PGH officials said they have no savings to pay the allowances.
Karen Faurillo of the All UP Workers Union said PGH was already in dire need of funds before the pandemic, and it was disappointing to see that the national government was passing the responsibility to the hospital.
“Someone needs to be held accountable for the delay of our COVID hazard pay and SRA,” Faurillo said in Filipino.
“These government agencies have all the resources and power to implement the mandated salaries and benefits for health workers, and yet they become culprits in exploiting the frontline health workers at midst of COVID-19 battle,” FNU National President Maristela Abenojar said.
“Nurses are contemplating to file formal case against the perpetrators who refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to implement SG15 salaries of nurses, as well as provide timely salaries and benefits like COVID-duty hazard pay and SRA,” she added.
She was referring to the increase in salary for entry-level nurses.
Besides the timely payment of salaries and nurses, the group also asked that contractual health workers be given plantilla positions.
Robert Mendoza, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said it was disappointing to know that there are more than 16,000 health workers who have yet to receive their COVID hazard pay.
He also questioned the government policy of giving COVID hazard pay only to those working inside the COVID ward of hospitals. He pointed out that all hospital employees are exposed to the risk of COVID-19 and should therefore receive hazard pay.
Health Alliance for Democracy Secretary General Albert Pascual said the government’s budget process shows how officials are not prioritizing health.
ButHealth Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH knows "the value of our health care workers."
“That's why when something like this happens, we investigate it at once and we give a solution,” she said of the PGH workers' concerns.
The DOH said they take the issue of delayed salaries “very seriously” and understand how health workers might be demoralized.
“When matters like this come to our attention, we conduct thorough investigations and concerned offices are made to answer to the secretary and develop solutions to improve the delivery of services and expedite processes. As health workers, many of us in the DOH—including members of our executive committee—have experienced working on the ground, in our health facilities, which is why we understand the challenges in the frontlines—being overworked, underpaid, demoralized, and in this pandemic, even more vulnerable,” said the DOH in a statement issued recently.
The Active Hazard Duty Pay (AHDP) and Special Risk Allowances (SRA) under Bayanahinan 1 are based on the savings of hospitals and only covers frontliners who reported for duty during the Enhanced Community Quarantine from March 15 to May 16, the DOH said.
Considering that other hospitals do not have savings, DOH alloted P51.9 million, which has been released to 17 DOH-retained hospitals that requested additional funding.
For Bayanihan 2, the AHDP and SRA are alloted through the Administrative Order 35 and 36 issued by the Office of the President on Nov. 16. Subsequently, DOH and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued Joint Circulars 1 and 2 last Nov. 25 which provides for the P9.2 billion allotment to DOH-retained hospitals, Centers for Health Development (CHDs), and the Ministry of Health of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao for the period of September to December has already been released this week.
Meanwhile, some 201 government hospitals in the country have yet to implement the granting of Salary Grade 15 to nurses ranked Nurse 1 in defiance of the Nursing law and a Supreme Court ruling, the FNU said Tuesday, despite DOH assurances made at a Senate hearing on Nov. 8.
Salary Grade 15 is a monthly salary which ranges from P32,053 to P34,801, while Salary Grade 11 amounts to a monthly salary of P22,316 to P24,391.
Abenojar then said the reality could be worse than their tally of 201 government hospitals.
“Both the DOH and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) have remained deaf to the cry of thousands of nurses literally begging for their just salaries and benefits to provide food security and other survival needs of their starving families,” Abenojar said.