healthcare workers

Senators urge gov’t to lift overseas deployment ban on health workers

JC Gotinga
Senators urge gov’t to lift overseas deployment ban on health workers
It’s unfair to hold back health workers from taking jobs abroad when they have no viable job options here at home, say senators Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva

Senators Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva urged the government to lift its overseas deployment ban on health workers, saying it is unfair to those who have worked hard and invested much in applying for jobs abroad – when no viable options are available to them in the Philippines.

Hontiveros wrote a letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, head of the government’s pandemic task force, and Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles, the task force’s co-chairperson. In the letter, she urged the task force to reconsider the deployment ban, as requested by various labor groups and nurses’ organizations.

The letter was received by Duque’s office on Tuesday, September 8, and was shared to reporters on Wednesday, September 9.

“While I understand that the country’s healthcare system should be prioritized vis-à-vis the allocation of scarce human resources during this difficult period, I also understand the disappointment and frustration of health workers barred from leaving the Philippines after entering into contracts for overseas employment and securing the permits necessary therefor,” Hontiveros said in the letter.

Deploying health workers abroad would not only give economic relief to their families, but their remittances would also help revive the domestic economy, she added. Otherwise, they would face financial losses and the legal repercussions of failure to fulfill the terms of their contracts.

Villanueva made a similar call in a separate statement, saying the government should consider “realities on the ground.”

“Most of the affected workers are their families’ breadwinners, have left their jobs to pursue overseas employment, and have spent considerable time and money to train and prepare for deployment,” Villanueva said.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 10,468 local jobs have opened for doctors, nurses, medical technologists, and other health workers, according to health officials consulted by Villanueva in a recent labor committee hearing at the Senate.

Of that number, around 7,850 were already filled as of August 20. Health officials reached out to some 1,700 health workers affected by the ban, but only 109 of them submitted applications.

The problem, the health officials told Villanueva’s panel, was the jobs they offered were only for 3 months – because the government’s budget resets at the end of every year.

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“What the Department of Health should do is to make the terms of employment enticing enough for our healthcare workers to consider working for the government,” Villanueva said.

The Senate labor committee chief noted the low salary, unclear guidelines on hazard pay, and the short-lived contracts that leave much to be desired from local medical jobs.

“I don’t think this pandemic will end in the next 3 months, that’s why the terms should be longer,” Villanueva added.

Hontiveros lamented the monthly P8,000 to P13,500 entry-level salary of nurses in the Philippines, which pays health workers the lowest in Southeast Asia. “How can this sustain a family?” she said.

“We cannot prevent them from leaving then not give them a reason to stay,” Hontiveros added.

‘Misunderstanding’ over nurses’ visas

Villanueva also urged the Department of Labor and Employment to “immediately sort out the misunderstanding” over 7 nurses who were earlier ordered off their flights to the United Kingdom by the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The nurses had sealed their overseas employment contracts ahead of the March 8 cut-off, so they were not covered by the deployment ban. However, the BI held them because their visas were secured after March 8.

This is a “wrong interpretation” of the ban, Villanueva said, because the order from the pandemic task force only mentions contracts, not visas, in determining who are prohibited from departing. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.