The plight of nurses amid the pandemic

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Nurses led by the Filipino Nurses United (FNU) commemorated the International Nurses Day on May 12 by wearing red face masks and raising calls to just wages and occupational safety. Since last year, nurses and other health workers have been demanding for humane treatment from the regime in order for them to carry out their work efficiently. They are calling for adequate protection, additional personnel and just compensation.

According to FNU spokesperson, “nurses are demoralized as they have yet to receive the correct compensation for their work in the frontlines of Covid-19.”

They are disappointed as many nurses in numerous hospitals are yet to receive wage increases as promised by the regime. Last July 2020, it can be recalled that the regime issued Budget Circular 2020-4 upgrading the salary of entry-level nurses in public hospitals from ₱22,316-₱24,391 (salary grade or SG 11) to ₱32,053-₱34,801 (SG 15). Up to the present, nurses are still demanding the immediate implementation of this order and the disbursement of the budget for special risk allowance (₱5,000) and active hazard pay (₱3,000) allocated for them.

On the other hand, the regime demoted by one rank lower all nurses with a position of Nurse II or higher, or those receiving a monthly salary of not less then ₱38,000. Many senior nurses complained that they were pressured to sign reappointment documents stating that they agree to the demotion. Their wages were not decreased but this meant that their salaries will not be upgraded.

Around 48,316 contractual nur­ses in public hospitals were not covered by the said order. The conditions of thousands of nurses in private hospitals are far worse as they commonly receive an average monthly pay of ₱10,000.

Among health workers, nurses are most vulnerable to being infected with Covid-19 as they are the ones who attend to Covid-19 patients. Latest data by the regime indicate that 6,000 out of 17,000 medical frontliners infected with the virus are nurses. Despite this, the regime is too slow in compensating infected nurses for their hospitalization. According to FNU, some nurses have contracted the virus two or three times already but have yet to receive any compensation.

Many nurses are thinking about resigning and finding another job because they do not feel that they are being given “enough assistance or support” by the government despite their efforts and the precariousness of their job.

In the past, nurses are commonly pushed out of the country due to measly wages and limited opportunities in the Philippines. Latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicate that nurses can earn up to ₱445,000 monthly in other countries. The average salary for nurses in the US, where most Filipino nurses are commonly deployed, is ₱319,000 per month, and ₱190,000 in the United Kingdom.

When the pandemic broke out, the Duterte regime implemented a deployment ban on health workers in April 2020 purportedly to address the shortage in the country. The regime lifted the ban in November but imposed that only 5,000 health workers are allowed to be deployed to other countries annually. The regime did not compensate the 16,746 health workers who are affected by the restriction.

In February, Department of Labor and Employment Sec. Silvestre Bello III himself admitted that the country has an “oversupply” of nurses. He said that the country currently has around 400,000 nurses. According to FNU, around 200,000 nurses are currently unemployed but the regime is not doing anything to ensure mass hiring in the face of worsening shortages in nurses in public hospitals, especially those with Covid-19 wards. Recently, there have been many reports about the closing down of nurse stations and hospitals refusing to admit patients due to lack of nurses. This includes the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City which reported a deficit of 30-35 nurses.

The plight of nurses amid the pandemic