Stirring win for nurses; nation’s teachers next

Published October 23, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

The country’s nurses in government hospitals won a stirring victory when the Supreme  Court ruled last October 8  that they are entitled to a minimum monthly salary of P30,000 under Republic Act 9173, the Philippine Nursing Act signed by President Gloria M. Arroyo in 2002. But Congress will have to enact the funds needed to implement the law.

Government nurses are among the many government workers who have long been asking for salary adjustments. The national organization of nurses, the  Filipino Nurses United (FNU),  said they are among the most overworked government workers, each nurse attending to  40 patients in some hospitals, when the  ideal ratio is 1:12. The current take-home pay of government nurses is  P18,000 to P21,000 a month. It is even lower in private hospitals – P8,000 to P12,000.

This is one reason so many Filipino nurses seek employment abroad. In comparison,  the average monthly salary of a nurse  in the United States is equivalent to  P200,000.

All these years, nurses have not been given the pay provided by RA 9173 because Congress in 2009 approved Joint Resolution No. 4 authorizing the president to modify the  compensation and position classification system of government employees. President Arroyo then issued Executive Order 811 setting salary grades for all government workers and that for government nurses was set at  Grade 11—P20,754 a month.

Last week, the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by the Ang Nars partylist, ruled that a Congress joint resolution and a presidential executive order cannot overturn a law.

In the wake of the court decision,  Anak Kalusugan partylist Rep. Michael Defensor called on Congres to now pass a joint resolution putting into effect the increased nurses’ pay. He pointed out that this was how the nation’s soldiers and policemen were able to have  their salaries doubled in 2017  by Congress prodded by the newly elected President Duterte.

In response to  claims that the government has not been able raise government salaries for lack of funds, FNU President  Eleanor Velasco said that what the government lacks is not funding but political will. When the President wanted money for police salaries, there were funds for it, she pointed out. “They have the money if they want to, but they have a thousand reasons if they don’t want to.”

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on government nurses’  salaries, it would not look good if President Duterte, who went all-out for military and police pay increases, would continue to leave the problem to Congress. He would open himself to claims that he lacks political will for nurses after what he did for the uniformed services.

Then  there  is  the problem of teachers – a much bigger problem  because they are many more than policemen or nurses. The teachers may not have a Supreme Court decision behind them but, perhaps more than any other group in the government service, they deserve much better pay   than they are receiving now.