‘Forced servitude’? PH prevents health workers from leaving

Ralf Rivas
‘Forced servitude’? PH prevents health workers from leaving
POEA says the deployment suspension of medical workers is of 'paramount national interest,' but nurses say it promotes 'involuntary servitude'

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has temporarily suspended the deployment of health care workers abroad as the country grapples to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In a resolution signed on April 2, the POEA said the following workers cannot be deployed “until the national state of emergency is lifted and until COVID-19-related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination country”:

  • Medical doctor/physician
  • Nurse
  • Microbiologist
  • Molecular biologist
  • Clinical analyst
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • 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

Negotiations of bilateral labor agreements for government-to-government deployment of healthcare workers are also suspended until the duration of the national state of emergency. 

The POEA said the deployment ban aims to “prioritize human resource allocation” in the country’s healthcare system. (READ: DOH asks for volunteer health workers vs coronavirus, to be paid P500 a day)

The resolution also emphasized that it is of “paramount national interest” to prepare health personnel that will “replace, substitute or reinforce” healthcare workers currently working in the local frontlines.

It did not elaborate how the government intends to utilize the skills of the medical workers or whether they will be hired or compensated during the temporary deployment suspension.

Forced servitude?

Nurses have slammed the POEA resolution, as it obstructs “life-changing opportunities” and promotes “involuntary servitude.”

“If the government wants to keep our health workers within our country, then we must offer competitive salaries and benefits so they will choose to stay, instead of being forced to,” said Leah Paquiz of Ang Nars. (READ: LIST: How to help healthcare workers, frontliners during coronavirus pandemic)

Nurses have also started an online petition, emphasizing that most of them already have existing contracts and the deployment ban may affect their visa validity.

“Despite the government offering us an allowance of P500 daily as compensation for volunteering, we are still looking forward for the deployment abroad due to the compensation that they are capable of giving,” the petition read.

Nurses who applied abroad have spent most of their time, effort and money to comply with the needed requirements so they can immediately work abroad.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. questioned the resolution on twitter.

“What is this? Have idiots ever heard of Constitutional right to travel especially to get the hell out of here and get decent jobs and decent pay abroad,” Locsin said.

“Government can ban those whose education it financially supported. Not those who had scraped to pay tuition.”

The resolution said the POEA is authorized to issue guidelines that will amend, clarify, and provide program support to the order. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.