“Our call for salary increase for public and private nurses is not a selfish act. To have quality health care, health workers must also have quality and dignified working conditions. This is also for the welfare of the Filipino people.” – Sean Velchez, nurse at the Philippine Orthopedic Center
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Filipino nurses are hardworking, dedicated practitioners who devote themselves to taking care of the sick. But the government has neglected them for so long; they suffer from low wages and oppressive policies. They can only take so much until the government heeds their call.
“A volcano is about to explode,” Sean Velchez, a nurse from the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) and current president of the POC employees union, said in a press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 15.
Velchez said nurses play a vital role in the care of people’s health. Nurses comprise the largest number of health workers in hospitals and other health facilities in the country. “However, we and other health workers, continue to be exploited through extended and uncompensated duty hours, heavy work load, low salaries and no security of tenure.”
The nurses demand the implementation of salary grade 15 upon entry as stated in the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002 which provides that there must be decent jobs for nurses.
To intensify their call, the nurses will go to the streets on Oct. 17.
A coalition called Justice for Nurses Coalition – composed of nurses from private and public hospitals, as well as registered nurses who are not working as nurses – was formed to seek justice for the nursing profession. The coalition was formed by three organizations of nurses; the Nurse 4 Change Movement, Nars ng Bayan and the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
Lack of nurses
The nurse to patient ratio of one nurse to 50 patients has become the norm. But the ideal ratio, according to the Department of Health, is one nurse to 12 patients.
“Actually, we call it one is to ward (one nurse attending to patients of one ward),” Dr. Carl Balita, a nurse advocate and one of the conveners of the Justice for Nurses Coalition, said. Balita is also a registered nurse, midwife, broadcaster and a registered teacher who owns a review center for nurses.
Jossel Ebesate, chief nurse at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and AHW national president, blamed the lack of nurses in public hospitals to the overload of patients being handled by one nurse.
“How a nurse renders his or her service is definitely affected if a nurse is taking care of more than 12 patients.” Ebesate added there are only 5,000 nurses servicing in the country’s public health sector.
Nars ng Bayan president Eleanor Nolasco also said there is only one nurse for 40 villages.
“In 42,000 villages in the country, only 17,000 villages have health stations but not nurses. Some rural health units have only one nurse to service more than 40 villages.”
She added that in public schools, nurses who ensure children’s health are being pulled out and their duty is being passed on to the teachers.
“There is a great need for nurses as the country’s population increases. But there are few nurses in the public health sector because the government does not open regular position for nurses. Instead, nurses are being hired on a contractual basis, without just compensation and benefits,” said Nolasco. She added, that because of contractualization, nurses are forced to go abroad or take non-nursing jobs.
Exploited and underemployed
Meanwhile in private hospitals, nurses are receiving salaries for as low as P3,960 ($88) a month, Ebesate said.
“There are private hospitals that are giving salaries to nurses that are even lower than the salary of a house help. That P3,960 a month salary of a nurse in private hospitals is not even the minimum wage.”
He added that the cost of living is P30,000 ($670) a month, “How can they cope with the expenses, especially if they have a family to support?”
The group also lambasted private hospitals who offer paid trainings to new nurses, or those who just passed the nursing board exam. Under this arrangement, nurses are the ones who pay a fee to work for a certain period in the hospital, which, in turn, issues them an employment certificate. Such a certificate gives them a better chance to land a job, having had “work experience.”
Ebesate said that new nurses are forced to grab paid trainings because job opportunities in public hospitals are scarce.
Balita lamented that these nurses under paid training have the same workload as employed nurses, meaning, they are also on-duty for 12 hours taking care of patients. “Imagine, you have spent four years in college, painstakingly reviewed and prepared for the board exams and when you pass, you will just land in that kind of exploitative condition.”
Dundee Concepcion, a registered nurse said that because of these conditions – contractualization in government hospitals and exploitative condition in private hospitals — forced him to take on a non-nursing job for a living wage.
“I never want to experience what other nurses are undergoing. They are exhausted but underpaid. Some are even receiving below the minimum wage. I have to provide and support my family too, that is why I decided to get a non-nursing job,” he told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
But it was not that easy turning his back from his profession, he added. After passing the board exams in 2007, Concepcion had applied in public and private hospitals but employment was elusive. Stories of fellow nurses who land nursing jobs but end up in worse working condition discouraged him more from working as a nurse.
“It was depressing. You want to serve your fellow Filipino but the government is neglecting you. We are called professionals but are receiving low salaries, overworked and have no security of tenure,” he lamented. He has been working for a business processing outsourcing company for seven years.
According to We Nurse Inc., there are 300,000 underemployed nurses and 200,000 unemployed nurses.
“How can there be no nurses in public hospitals when there are thousands of nurses who are unemployed? The government should have offered vacant plantilla positions for these nurses instead of contractual nurses,” Balita said.
“There is money for the stem cell research but none for the salary increase of nurses,” Balita added.
Unite for salary increase, decent jobs
Concepcion and other underemployed nurses have formed We Nurse Inc., an organization of underemployed and unemployed registered nurses also fighting for the rights of health workers. They have started as an online community, but on Oct. 17, Concepcion and their members will march from the gates of University of Santo Tomas in España, Manila to Chino Roces Bridge (former Mendiola Bridge) to join the force of nurses calling for salary increase and decent jobs for registered nurses.
Balita also said that on the 17th, nurses on duty will wear a black arm band as solidarity to the mass action in Mendiola.
“The government must implement the salary grade 15 for nurses as stated in the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002. Let us give them a reason not to leave the country and to continue to serve the Filipino people.”
“People dying of preventable diseases will only increase if nurses will continue to leave the country. Because nurses are humans also, they are not superwoman or superman. The service of nurses attending to multiple patients will definitely be affected.”
“Our call for salary increase for public and private nurses is not a selfish act. To have quality health care, health workers must also have quality and dignified working conditions. This is also for the welfare of the Filipino people,” Velchez said.