Health workers protest to demand for unpaid benefits

Published September 1, 2021, 12:17 PM

by Analou de Vera

“Enough is enough.”

Healthcare workers staged a protest action outside the Department of Health (DOH) Central Office in Manila on Wednesday, Sept. 1, to press them to release their long delayed benefits.

Clad in their personal protective equipment while holding placards and empty cans, healthcare workers slammed the government over the “non-payment” of their COVID-19 benefits.

“The continued denial of benefits from nurses and other health workers pushes them to leave the domestic health sector and find better work opportunities, if only to save their families from hunger and getting ill. Consequentially, this will deprive millions of Filipinos to access quality care,” said Filipino Nurses United (FNU) National President Maristela Abenojar.

Aside from their special risk allowance (SRA), there are other delayed benefits include: hazard duty pay, life insurance; meals, accommodation, and transportation allowance; compensation for health workers who had mild, moderate, severe or critical COVID-19; as well as compensation for families of health workers who died of COVID–19 was “likewise unaddressed”, said Abenojar.

Abenojar also lamented that the P311 million for the provision of SRA released by the government “targeted only 20,000 more health workers, far behind the 500,000 targeted health workers.”

She said that all healthcare workers should receive SRA.

“All health workers deserve SRA given the airborne nature of the virus. In fact, many patients admitted in non-COVID wards later turn out to be positive, exposing a lot of health workers unprepared. This should have been considered and forwarded by the DOH, which was present during the crafting of the provisions under Bayanihan 2,” said Abenojar.

Under Republic Act No. 11494 or the “Bayanihan to Recover As One Act,” the SRA is only given to “all public and private health workers directly catering or in contact with COVID-19 patients.”

“From anxious and hopeful, to frustrated and betrayed – this is the feeling of thousands of nurses, who remain unconvinced that they will indeed receive the promised Bayanihan 2 benefits due them,” said Abenojar.

“If there is any praise to be given to DOH, it is to the skill with which they washed their hands clean of their faults and denied their shortcomings–truly nothing short of stellar hygiene. Their just reward, and the next most urgent task: to hold them to account, to have Secretary Francisco Duque III resign and face investigation,” she added.

Duque ‘resign now’

The healthcare workers, who are in the frontlines since the pandemic started last year, also demand for the resignation of DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III.

“The deadline we set with the DOH to grant our COVID-19 benefits is finally over. Our patience with Secretary Duque is over. A year has passed but the basic problem confronting health workers in relation to the COVID-19 issue remains,” said Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) National President Robert Mendoza.

“Enough is enough! Now, let him face our collective call for him to step down and be accountable for his wrongdoings especially in ensuring our health, safety, and welfare,” he added.

Mendoza said that Duque is no “longer fit” to lead the DOH.

“For the sake of delicadeza, he better step down now. Not ‘when the time comes’ as Sec. Duque insisted but now is the best time for him to leave DOH. We strongly demand for his full accountability and liability,” he said.

Call for justice

The protest actions of healthcare workers also symbolized a demand for justice, said AHW Secretary General Benjamin Santos.

“This fight is not just a matter of fulfilling the economic needs of the healthcare workers but rather this is a fight for justice. We are deprived of our rights to avail what is provided by law,” said Santos.

The government is deceiving the country’s healthcare workers, said St. Luke’s Medical Center Employees Association Jao Clumia.

“Sobra nang panloloko sa mga healthcare workers ang ginagawa ng mga ahensyang ito ng gobyerno. Ang mga pangakong benepisyo ay lagi nalang napapako (The government agencies are already deceiving healthcare workers too much. The promises of benefits are not being given to us),” said Clumia.

“Ang kalagayan ng mga healthcare workers ay maihahalintulad sa isang pasyenteng dinala sa emergency room pero iniwang nakahandusay hanggang sa mag- expire o mamatay (The condition of healthcare workers is comparable to that of a patient taken to the emergency room but was left unattended until he expires or dies),” he added.

Abenojar said that they will continue to “push on for living wage, just benefits and compensation, and humane work conditions” for all healthcare workers.

Continue to serve patients

Despite their condition, healthcare workers will continue to care for their patients, said Mendoza.

“Amidst the COVID-19 surge, health workers who are considered new heroes are extending their extreme sacrifice and dedication to continuously fight COVID-19 and serve their patients while they arduously struggled for their protection, safety, welfare, and ultimately fighting for people’s right to quality health care,” he said.