MANILA - Health workers in private hospitals and medical institutions in the Philippines are considering a "medical lockdown" amid the COVID-19 crisis in the country due to reported low salaries and lack of benefits, a labor union official has warned.
According to UST Hospital union president Donnel John Siason on Thursday, private sector health workers are frustrated that they are not receiving the benefits which their counterparts in the public institution have.
These include life insurance, paid residence, free transportation, free food, hazard pay, and medical allowance, which they said should have been provided to all health workers in the Philippines under the Bayanihan Act 2.
"Hindi namin alam kung paano namin ito iraraos yung pang-araw araw na pangangailangan ng health workers. Hinarap namin ang problema sa transpotasyon, hinarap namin ang problema sa akomodasyon, hinarap namin pati ang ultimong kakainin namin, hinarap namin ang problema ng hazard pay at lahat ng hinaharap namin na mga problema hanggang ngayon," Siason said.
Some health workers, such as medical technicians, are not even included in the list of medical frontliners who should be given benefits, he bared.
It's been nearly two years since the pandemic began but private sector health workers yet have to get a taste of the benefits they deserve, Siason said.
"Somehow natugunan 'yung hindi lang namin inaasam, pinapangarap na makuha sa panahon ng pandemya. Pero lahat ng ito makalipas ang isang taon, magdadalawang taon na, wala po kaming natikman," he said.
Jao Clumia, president of the St. Luke's Medical Center Employees Association, said that benefits like free food were provided before to the hospital's employees. But after St. Luke's allegedly ran out of funds, distribution of free food stopped.
Clumia said the country's state health insurer, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, needs to pay the hospital P2 billion for reimbursements on COVID-19 service-related expenses.
He claimed that 10 other hospitals have also ran out of funds.
Clumia said they mulling a "medical lockdown", or health workers' strike if they do not receive the benefits they deserve. He added that mass resignation of medical frontliners is possible if they feel they can no longer fulfill their duties due to lack of support.
"Magkaroon kami ng sama-samang pagkilos. Pwedeng lalabas kami kahit sabihing hulihin kami ng mga pulis. Igiit namin ang karapatan namin, magra-rally kami sa labas para lang marinig ng kinakuukulan ang hinaing ng aming nurses. No choice na mag-resign sila. Sinong magaalaga?" he said.
UNUTILIZED FUNDS UNDER BAYANIHAN ACT 2
Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, meanwhile, said there's P18 billion worth of unused funds under the Bayanihan Act 2 which Malacañang earlier confirmed. The legislated funding for the Philippine COVID-19 response expired on June 30.
Quimbo said that due to the expiration, Congress can't realign the funds but President Rodrigo Duterte can allot them for the private sector's health workers.
"So, nasaan na ngayon ang authorization ng ating Presidente to continue doing all of these things?" she asked, referring to special temporary powers granted to Duterte to manage the COVID-19 crisis, such as realigning the budget.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III agreed with Quimbo, saying the funds should be given to the private sector health workers.
"We have to see, find and how it should be given them. There si no substitute in giving them what is due them, legal po yan eh, obligation po natin 'yan," he said.
According to Bello, the management of private hospitals should also raise the salaries of their employees. He added the Senate should "compel" administrations of the private health institutions to elevate the wages of their workers.
"May minimum wage law nga eh pero hindi nasusunod," he said.
Senators Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Richard Gordon have vowed they will focus their efforts on the issue.
"We will reach out to the DOH (Department of Health) and ask them about the status of the distribution of benefits for the health care workers under the Bayanihan 2. Kung may hindi kumilos, dapat pangalanan, panagutin. Kakalampagin natin sila sa isyung ito," Hontiveros said.
Pangilinan meanwhile urged for the extension of Bayanihan Act 2 so the unutilized funds will be used for private sector health workers.
"Kung halimbawa extension ang maipasa, ibig sabihin retroact yun. In other words yung mga hindi nai-release before June 30 dapat pwede, in other words covered na lahat yun kung extension ng Bayanihan 2 ang pinaguusapan," he said.
—Report from Wheng Hidalgo, ABS-CBN News