Health workers with contracts, employment certificates as of March 8 can leave PH

The Philippine government is allowing all health workers with existing contracts and overseas employment certificates as of March 8 to leave the country for work abroad.  

In a press briefing on Thursday, August 20, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reaffirmed this, saying health workers with the necessary documents issued and signed as of March 8 could work abroad during the pandemic. 

“Health professionals with overseas employment certificates (OECs) issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and verified contacts as of March 8 can leave. Returning OFWs who were here for vacation can also leave,” Roque said in Filipino. 

This is the same rule that has been in place since April, though Roque now clarified OECs were among the requirements needed by health workers to leave for their jobs abroad. 

During an April 14 briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, then-spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force  on the coronavirus pandemic, said that the IATF adopted a resolution easing restrictions on the deployment ban on health workers. (READ: PH to lift deployment ban on health workers with existing contracts)

"All medical and allied healthcare professionals with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 shall be allowed for deployment abroad," Nograles said in a briefing. 

Yet in the months that followed Nograles' announcement, many nurses with employment contracts as of March 8 were unable to leave the country. Aside from existing contracts, the POEA issued an advisory on April 20, saying that health workers would also need to have signed or applied for an OEC before March 8.

Roque said other workers who do not have signed contracts and OECs as of March 8 will be covered by the POEA's deployment ban on health care workers as the country struggles to contain the rising number of coronavirus patients.

Nograles earlier said health workers who will leave for abroad will need to complete a declaration signifying they know and understand the risks involved in going abroad, as advised by the Philippine government.  

Seeking work abroad

The government earlier modified the travel ban amid outrage over the sudden implementation of the policy on Friday, April 10, when nurses serving the UK's National Health Service were barred from catching their flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Among those who opposed the deployment ban was Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr who vowed to "fight" it as it violated the Constitution.

Many of these workers, among them nurses, have opted to work abroad due to low wages and poor working conditions in their home country.

Nograles earlier touted the IATF decision to ease restrictions on those with existing contracts as a "win-win" solution resulting from discussions on the needs of the Philippines during the coronavirus outbreak, as well as relevant laws on Filipinos’ right to work overseas.  

Alongside this, Nograles said the Department of Health was ordered to undergo the emergency hiring of health workers to assist in caring for the increasing number of coronavirus patients. Hiring will be subject to review by the  Department of Budget and Management. 

Despite this, President Rodrigo Duterte said while he was "okay" with the decision of health workers to leave, he appealed to them to remain in the country during the coronavirus outbreak. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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