Nurses care for sick patients, but government is not caring for them.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Nestor Awitin, 28, a registered nurse, has been working for six years in a local government hospital in Novaliches, Quezon City. His contract is renewed every six months for the past six years. He receives no benefits, not even the government mandated ones. Because of this situation, he is now applying for work abroad.
“If only our working condition here is better, then I wouldn’t have to leave the country,” Awitin said in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
Awitin is one of the more than a hundred nurses who marched from España avenue to Chino Roces Bridge (Mendiola Bridge) on Friday, Oct. 17. They called on President Aquino to address the sorry state of nurses and heed their call for the implementation of the Philippine Nurses Act of 2002, that sets public hospital nurses’ entry level salary at P25,000 ($558) a month. In government salary scheme, salary grade 15 is equivalent to P25,000.
“We also demand that salary grade 15 be also implemented for the nurses of private hospitals,” said Jossel Ebesate, president of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW).
The AHW said that public hospital nurses are receiving P18,000 ($402) a month. In private hospitals, nurses are receiving lower wages at P180 ($4) a day or equivalent to less than P4,000 ($89) a month.
“I hope that the government heeds the call of nurses. We are much neglected. We did not study for four years and took pains in reviewing to pass the board exams only to end up in a dismal working condition,” said Awitin.
“Nurses are actually the most exploited. Aside from the dismal salary nurses receive particularly in private health facilities, some nurses are not even paid at all. Instead, they are the ones who pay their employer for the job they provide in the guise of ‘training,’” said Sean Herbert Velchez, president of the National Orthopedic Hospital employees union.
Velchez said many nurses fall victim to this exploitative practice for the sake of getting an employment certificate, which is a required credential for work abroad. However, Leni Ilag of Nars ng Bayan said, some hospitals are only giving certificate of completion of training.
Dundee Concepcion, president of the We Nurse Inc. said many nurses become victim of the “volunteer” work in private and in public hospitals. When a nurse is hired as a volunteer, it means working with no salary and benefits, even if he or she is a licensed nurse and is on duty for 12 hours.
Raine, 24, a registered nurse, has been working as volunteer nurse for almost a year. “I was working as a company nurse before I applied for a nursing job in hospitals because I really wanted to pursue my nursing career,” she told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Raine applied in different hospitals with decent pay and security of tenure but to no avail. Because she wanted to practice her profession, she took “volunteer” work in a hospital. Her first volunteer work only lasted for three months. In her second volunteer work, she was asked to pay P4,000 ($89) for four months of training with a promise to be hired in the said hospital after the said “training.” She ended up not getting hired.
“I had hopes for that second volunteer work even if I had to pay for it, because the hospital said that after the training, there was a chance that we will be hired. But after four months, I was not hired. It was really unfair because a batch mate of mine was hired even if she came to work late, and even with hang-over. While I, who report for work decently and on time, was not hired,” Raine lamented.
After her second volunteer work, she once again tried to apply in hospitals but she did not land any nursing job, and ended up again as volunteer. For the third time as volunteer, she said she is being maligned by the employed nurses, although she treats it like water off a duck’s back.
“It is my passion. I really wanted to become a nurse. That is why even if the only way to practice my profession is to do volunteer work I still grabbed that chance because it’s different when you love what you’re doing.”
But working without salary puts a strain on her pocket as she has to pay her bills, spend for transportation, food, among many others, and Raine said considering to apply for a non-nursing job.
“This third volunteer work is just for six months, and if I still don’t get hired then, I will just apply in other field.”
Raine also said there seems to be no opportunity for nurses in the country. She said the “backer system” is rampant in government hospitals, which favor only applicants with a “backer” or has support from somebody in the hospital.
“I was not hired because they said I do not know anyone who can ‘back up’ my application. It was really saddening,” she said. Hospitals also discriminate against those who have less than 80 per cent passing score in the board exam.
Raine said she joined the protest action of nurses because “it is only right that we, the nurses, stand up for our right,” she said.
Future nurses support the struggle
The Philippine Nursing Students Association (PNSA) also joined the protest action last Friday. They said that they support the struggle of nurses, because in the future, if the wrong practice continues, they will face the same problem.
“Whenever we are on duty in hospitals, we feel the nurses’ burden of having many patients beyond their capacity. We see with our own eyes the lack of nurses, especially in government hospitals and how the nurses strive to perform their duty,” said Marissa Roissing, 32, third year nursing student of the Delos Santos-STI College.
Joseph Gonzales, 25, second year, nursing student also of Delos Santos-STI said nurses get so relieved when they see nursing students come for duty like “someone has come to save the day.”
“They are really happy when we come for duty, they would say, ‘they are here!’” Gonzales said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. He added that in public hospitals, there is only one nurse in a medical ward, one nurse in the obstetrician (OB) ward and one in the nursing station.
“It is bewildering to be doing many tasks at the same time. A nurse has to document, to attend to the patient and to assist the doctor. And when they commit a mistake, they are the ones who will be blamed. But on the other hand, it’s the government’s fault for not hiring more nurses,” Gonzales said.
Graduate nursing students who are reviewing for the board exam also joined the protest.
“There is no overloading of nurses in government hospitals, it is the government overloading them with work because many public hospitals are really lacking nurses,” said Enrik, 22.
He also lamented that parents like his have spent all their savings for their education and expenses for the review classes only to have their children end up in an exploitative working condition. “We pay for or education, for our review classes, we even pay for our trainings and after passing board exams, nurses are just neglected.”
‘Just the beginning’
Velchez said the Oct. 17 protest is just the beginning. He said organizing to unite and strengthen their forces will be the key to the success of their struggle.
The same protest actions were also held in Baguio, Central Luzon, Central Visayas and Davao, Velchez said.
Carl Balita, convener of the Justice for Nurses Coalition meanwhile urged the Philippine Nurses’ Association to also fight for the rights of nurses. He also slammed Ang Nars partylist for not being the voice of the nurses in Congress. “I am an avid supporter of Ang Nars but where are they now?”
“We should not be here in the first place. Those who were on night duty should be resting by now, those who have review classes should be in their classes. But because there is a crisis of nurses, we are here today to show the government that it is time to act on this crisis,” Balita said.
“Friends, comrades, let us not expect that after our protest action today, the Holy Spirit will come down to Aquino and he will increase the salary nurses right away. Our struggle has long way to go. Just like the twigs of the walis tingting (broom), we have to bind ourselves together to sweep away the rubbish, we have to unite to fight for our rights. If we act together, we will win our struggle,” Velchez said.