Only 5,000 health care workers will be allowed to leave every year to ensure the Philippines, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, will have enough medical professionals to fight the pandemic, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Saturday.
This was after President Rodrigo Duterte has approved ending a ban on deploying health care workers overseas—nurses and other medical workers—in face of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 413,000 and killed at least 8,000 in the Philippines.
Duterte’s approval removed the bar that checked thousands of nurses to take up jobs abroad, Bello said.
This developed after nurses in public hospitals were also up in arms over an inadvertent demotion after the government raised their entry-level play to Salary Grade 15, or about P32,000 per month last July.
Instead of correspondingly upgrading the salaries of senior nurses, hospitals used the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Circular No. 2020-4 as basis against a general salary increase, the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said.
Dated July 17, the circular was notable for upgrading nurses’ entry salary from SG 11 (about P22,000) to SG 15 (about P32,000), but it also effectively demoted long-serving nurses.
The circular modified the Nurse II position with SG 15 to the lower position of Nurse I, but with the same salary grade as Nurse II. As a result, nurses in the Nurse II to VII positions not only did not get any corresponding salary increase but were even demoted.
Last month, the Department of Health (DOH) issued Memorandum No. 2020-466 suspending the implementation of the DBM circular for Nurse II and above. According to the FNU, many hospitals ignored the order and have accordingly demoted their senior nurses.
“Thousands of nurses … suffered from demoralization and confusion as they were pressured by their employers to sign reappointment documents that demote them one rank from their current position,” the group said in a statement.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration suspended the deployment of doctors, nurses, and health care workers abroad to preserve its frontline force against the pandemic.
The ban took effect April 2 but was later revised to allow health workers with existing employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 to leave the country.
But the clamor mostly from nurses’ groups prompted the government to reconsider expanding the exemption to include health professionals with complete overseas employment contracts as of Aug. 31, 2020.
Around 1,000 to 1,500 nurses were affected by the temporary ban that began in April, according to POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia.
Earlier on, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said health professionals with complete overseas employment documents as of Aug. 31, 2020 were permitted to leave the country.
Previously, only health care workers with existing employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 were allowed to work abroad as the Philippines, a key exporter of nurses and other medical workers, sought to keep a reserve force in its battle against the pandemic.
The Philippines initially suspended the deployment of doctors, nurses, and health care workers abroad effective April 2.
The ban was aimed to “prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system at the time of the national state of emergency,” the POEA said in a memorandum.
Workers covered by the deployment ban were the following:
• Medical doctor/physician
• Molecular biologist
• Medical technologist
• Clinic analyst
• Respiratory therapist
• Laboratory technician
• X-ray/ radiologic technician
• Nursing assistant/nursing aid
• Operator of medical equipment
• Supervisor of health services and personal care
• Repairman of medical-hospital equipment
On October 1, the DOLE said it was open to lifting the overseas deployment ban on Filipino health workers as senators raised concerns over job opportunities for nurses.
“Our minds are very, very open to the possibility of lifting the temporary suspension of deployment,” Bello said during the Senate hearing on his agency’s proposed 2021 budget.
The labor chief made the statement after Sen. Nancy Binay said other countries may opt to hire nurses from other countries since they are unable to get Filipinos due to the ban.
Binay said, “Our nurses might not find jobs abroad anymore if the ban continues for a long time, because nurses from other countries may have already been hired.”
But Bello at that time said Binay’s worry was “far fetched” as Filipino nurses were “the most preferred nurses in the world.”