Health workers: Heroes who are underpaid and deprived of benefits

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August 31 has come and passed marking the failure of the Department of Health (DOH) to meet the 10-day dealine it set to give health workers their due benefits. This was the reason why nurses and other health workers walked out from at least 10 hospitals in Metro Manila on August 30 and September 1. They also protested in front of the DOH office in Manila to demand the immediate resignation of Sec. Francisco Duque III. Similar protest actions were mounted in Baguio City, Pampanga, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Samar, Leyte and Isabela.

Health workers are utterly enraged at successive reports issued recently which exposed the failure of the regime to obligate funds on the one hand, and widespread corruption on the other hand. These anomalies have already become the trademark of the Duterte regime’s failed pandemic response. The benefits that health workers are denied include the legislated special risk allowance (SRA). Because of the protests, the Department of Budget and Management was obliged to release ₱311 million and ₱888 million last week which cover the SRA of 120,000 health workers who rendered health care services to Covid-19 patients from December 2020 until June.

Nurses and health workers’s unions asserted that all health workers, including non-medical staff and those who give medical care to non-Covid-19 patients, must be provided the SRA. These include ambulance drivers and orderlies who are at risk of getting infected wherever they are assigned, and whatever their work is in their respective workplaces.

On top of the SRA, medical workers also demand a hazard pay, as well as allowances for transportation, meals and accomodation. In the case of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, 70% of the budget (₱39.2 million) allocated for the transportation allowance of health workers from September to December remain unobligated.

Many workers have already succumbed to the virus, got infected, or were forced to resign or retire. This further narrowed down the number of health workers which is already low, and further weakened the already deteriorating health system especially amid the rapid spread of infections due to the Delta variant.

Just recently, Covid-19 infections in the country already soared to over 2 million. Many hospitals declared full capacity and could no longer accept patients. Of the 33,000 who died, 103 were health workers.

According to the Alliance of Health Workers, health workers attempted to have a dialogue with the the DOH prior to the protest but they were just ignored by the department. Duque reasoned that only ₱1 billion was allocated for their benefits, despite the fact that ₱59 billion is needed for this. Worse, no funds were allocated for health workers in the 2022 national budget.

Health workers: Heroes who are underpaid and deprived of benefits