MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippine government should implement a mass hiring of healthcare workers and nurses and ensure their security in the battle against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, a nurses' group official said Tuesday.
Speaking to ANC Tuesday, Maristela Abenojar, president of the group Filipino Nurses United, said the country has been experiencing a shortage of nurses even before the pandemic due to poor working conditions in some local hospitals.
Now that the shortage is amplified due to the health crisis, Abenojar said it was better for the government to hire nurses and other healthcare workers and provide them with security of tenure and full benefits instead of just asking them to volunteer.
"We have 200,000 unemployed nurses which can be tapped as our additional manpower but our government should offer them just benefits and salaries and security of tenure, not as volunteers," she said.
Abenojar added that under the volunteerism scheme, healthcare workers are deprived of benefits that they should be getting.
"When they are offered volunteerism scheme, it deprives them of their basic right to just compensation and benefits," she said.
"With volunteer, they do not have (employer-employee) relationship. In fact, they are asked to sign a waiver wherein in case they are contracting the disease COVID-19, then the DOH has no responsibility over them. This is why we want them to be hired, hired with security of tenure," Abenojar added.
"The call to have mass hiring of nurses is a strategic strategy to address not only the shortage at present but the shortage way before the pandemic," she said.
The health department earlier denied reports that their volunteers were being made to sign waivers in case they contract the coronavirus.
Last month, the agency reached out to medical and non-medical professionals willing to volunteer their services to augment the workforce at referral hospitals for COVID-19 patients.
The call was made amid the rising number of coronavirus cases that, unfortunately, also included some health workers, and the dwindling workforce in a number of health facilities where personnel exposed to COVID-19 patients need to undergo quarantine for at least 14 days.
The program, however, drew criticism over the P500 daily allowance that the DOH announced for each volunteer. Responding to calls for proper compensation, a lawmaker said Congress is willing to match it with the salary of newly hired government health workers.
As of March 30, the program’s Facebook page said 1,000 volunteers have already signed up. A query sent by ABS-CBN News for an updated tally remains unanswered as of posting time.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has recorded 5,223 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Of that number, 295 have recovered and 335 have died. - with a report from Ronron Calunsod, ABS-CBN News