Another lawmaker has hit the Department of Health (DOH) for its poor employment terms for healthcare workers who are frontliners in the country’s COVID-19 response.
Senator Joel Villanueva called on DOH’s persistent failure to augment the health human resource needed during the pandemic, saying that its emergency hiring program offers terms that are worse than “endo” and unreasonable as the pandemic is anticipated to last until next year.
Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said he has been writing the DOH since May to improve the terms of its emergency hiring for healthcare workers to ensure the salary and benefits of healthcare workers are commensurate to the risk they will have to face as the highly infectious disease has claimed over 7,998 lives, including 72 healthcare workers.
“Masahol pa po sa Endo ang ginagawa ng DOH sa ating mga healthcare heroes,” Villanueva said referring to the informal practice of terminating a worker’s contract before the sixth month to circumvent labor laws on providing security of tenure.
“Napakababa po ng kanilang sweldo, hanggang 3-6 na buwan lamang ang kanilang kontrata at walang kasiguruhan sa trabaho; wala rin silang sapat na benepisyo at proteksyon lalo na ngayong panahon ng pandemya. Hindi po makatarungan ito para sa ating mga healthcare workers na nagbubuwis ng kanilang buhay upang mangalaga sa mga may sakit, lalo na ang mga COVID-19 patients. Let’s give what is due to our health workers,” the senator said in a statement.
Villanueva reiterated that DOH should offer better contract terms such as extending the duration to a year, as the President placed the country under a State of Calamity due to the pandemic until September 2021.
The lawmaker enjoined the health department to use all available funds at their disposal as he lamented that DOH has an unobligated budget of about P70 billion, or some 55% of its P158.7 billion allotment from its current and continuing appropriations, according to the budget department data as of October 9, 2020.
On top of this, the DOH received P13.5 billion from the Bayanihan 2 to support its emergency hiring program for healthcare workers to beef up its pandemic response. Of the target 10,693 openings, the department hired 8,056 healthcare workers as of September.
The lawmaker also pointed out that DOH has 14,553 unfilled positions, or nearly 20% of its 77,010 total authorized positions.
Villanueva was reacting to Sorsogon Gov. Chiz Escudero’s post lamenting the plight of 11 nurses the DOH deployed to the province to augment their pandemic response.
Of the 11 nurses, only two of them received two months’ worth of salaries after five months, while the other nine did not receive their salaries for over a month, Escudero wrote in a tweet. He added that none of the nurses received any benefits, and the working conditions are too much to bear that only one of the 11 nurses remained with them.
Villanueva urged other provincial governors to come out in the open and share their experience for the benefit of healthcare workers.
The unattractive employment terms are also among the reasons why nurses set out for jobs overseas, the lawmaker pointed out as he reiterated the call to lift the deployment ban on nurses.
“If we want to keep our nurses at home, let’s give them a competitive package with salaries and benefits commensurate to the risks that come with their jobs. Our government should also ensure that they are paid on time. Otherwise, if we cannot do all of these, we might as well let them leave so they are able to provide for their families and not be prisoners in their own country,” Villanueva said.