MANILA - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Wednesday said it would study the recommendation to exempt from the deployment ban health workers with overseas employment contracts perfected as of August 31 of this year, instead of the March 8 cutoff.
This as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration's (POEA) ban on the deployment of Filipino health care workers since the onset of the pandemic remains. Only those with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 have been allowed to leave the country.
“Tingnan natin kung gaano karami ang nakakumpleto ng papales as of August 31 and see how big ang volume,” DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a virtual conference with health workers organized by the group United Filipino Global.
(We will check how many completed their documents as of August 31 and see how big is the volume.)
Bello said if the numbers are manageable then there won’t be any problem.
“Pero kung pagdating ng statistics, we will be sending off 50,000 nurses baka delikado,” he said.
(But when the statistics come in and we will be sending off 50,000 nurses, that might be risky.)
The government wants to prevent an exodus of Filipino health workers at this time of a pandemic as the surge in COVID-19 cases in the county continues. The overwhelmed medical sector had earlier called for a 2-week "timeout" to recalibrate pandemic response measures.
Bello pointed out that the country remains under a health emergency situation and needs to closely monitor the pandemic.
“Kung uncontrolled ang pagpapadala natin ng mga medical workers, ayaw kong dumating ang panahon na 'yung ating mismong kababayan na magkakasakit ng COVID ay wala nang mag-attend sa kanilang medical workers,” he said.
(If our deployment of medical workers is uncontrolled, I don't want for the time to come when nobody would attend to our own people who are sick with COVID.)
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has reported 224,264 cases of COVID-19, including 62,655 active cases. Of the total number, 158,012 have recovered and 3,597 have died.
Bello added that there is also a need to be very sure about the statistics of nurses to determine how many are skilled and are new to ensure that there won’t be any shortage of medical workers in the country.
“Kung halimbawa we will extend it to August 31 and we will use only about 2 or up to 5,000 baka naman we can convince IATF na i-consider nila. Pero kung it goes beyond that, napakahirap,” he said.
(If we extend until August 31 and allow 2,000 up to 5,000 we might be able to convince IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 response) to consider. But if it goes beyond that, that's going to be very hard.)
Sen. Nancy Binay recently said the government has no right to prevent health care workers from working abroad to provide for their families. She urged the POEA and the IATF to recall its deployment ban.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. shared the sentiment and added that nurses are poorly paid in the country.
The POEA said the adjustment to the cut-off is doable and would be able to accommodate the deployment of more health workers abroad instead of lifting the ban.
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, who also attended the virtual forum, said the recommendation should be based on data which they would present to the IATF for consideration.
He said the agency would get a written request from nurses with consummated or perfected contracts as of August 31, 2020, with all supporting data.
Nurses who listened in at the forum welcomed the move, saying they have been appealing for a total lifting of the deployment ban to allow them to seek better opportunities abroad.
Many of them complain that the ban has affected not just them, but also their families who they are supporting. They also said that some of them have expiring documents and don’t know where to get the money for renewal.
Bello earlier urged private hospitals to do their share by providing higher compensation for nurses and other medical workers to make them decide to stay in the Philippines instead of seeking employment abroad.