MANILA — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said Thursday it was open to lifting the overseas deployment ban on Filipino health workers as senators raised concerns over job opportunities for nurses.
"Our minds are very, very open to the possibility of lifting the temporary suspension of deployment," Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said during the Senate hearing on his agency's proposed 2021 budget.
The labor chief made the statement after Sen. Nancy Binay said other countries may opt to hire nurses from other countries since they are unable to get Filipinos due to the ban.
"Baka sa sobrang tagal nating sinara at hindi pinayagan nurses natin, baka wala na silang trabahong puwedeng puntahan abroad kasi baka naka-hire na from other countries," Binay said.
(Our nurses might not find jobs abroad anymore if the ban continues for a long time, because nurses from other countries may have already been hired.)
But Bello said Binay's worry was "farfetched" as Filipino nurses were "the most preferred nurses in the world."
Around 1,000 to 1,500 nurses were affected by the temporary ban that began in April, according to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia.
The government has relaxed the policy by first allowing those with completed contracts by March 8 of this year to leave the country. The exemption later included those with completed document as of August 31.
Bello explained that they are keeping the ban to ensure that there is a sufficient number of medical workers in the country in case the COVID-19 crisis worsens.
"Kapag gumaganda na ang situwasyon ng ating bansa in terms of the COVID-19 contamination, we will consider [lifting the ban]," he said.
Binay, citing official data, said there are around 500,000 available nurses in the country but the country only needs nearly 90,000.
She said the deployment ban may be contributing to the unemployment numbers.
"We are making them stay. Tapos, hindi naman sila pumapasok sa mga public or private hospitals natin. So, technically nasasama sila sa bilang ng unemployment," she said.
(They are not working in our public or private hospitals. So, technically, they are part of the unemployment figure.)
"Kung may oversupply para sa'kin, dapat payagan na silang makaalis," she said.
(If there is an oversupply here, for me, they should be allowed to leave the country.)
Bello, however, said there was no consensus among government agencies on the number of nurses available in the country.
The labor chief also said he was proposing to raise the salaries of medical workers in the private sector, matching them with the pay of those in the public sector, so they would no longer want to work abroad.
The deployment ban was aimed to "prioritize human resource allocation for the national health care system at the time of the national state of emergency," according to a POEA memorandum.