An understandable threat

Philippine healthcare workers are reportedly mulling a general strike in order to force hospitals and medical institutions to at least listen to their valid complaints regarding low salaries and lack of benefits.

The unhappy workers belong to the private sector, but no one will be surprised if doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers in public hospitals join in on what is being called a “medical lockdown.”

It could happen this week, although everyone is hoping it does not. The popular reasoning is that workers from this key sector should never, ever go on strike or work stoppage or whatever mass action they are planning in order to send a strong message to all.

But what if they have a valid reason for taking the desperate act?

Hopefully, the government does more than just issue a warning or an appeal to them to think twice. Hopefully, concrete action is taken regarding their complaints.

In fact, public sector healthcare workers are not complaining about low pay, they are not getting paid at all. Their salaries and benefits are either delayed or are not given in full.

Some have not only threatened to go on strike, but may even resign en masse.

You can’t get more extreme than that.

Most would say that our healthcare professionals would not dare take such extreme action as a strike, especially now that the country is in the midst of a serious health crisis brought about by the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Imagine our rank-and-file policemen or soldiers suddenly abandoning their posts. Unthinkable, isn’t it?

The effects of healthcare workers abandoning their jobs – be it temporarily or permanently – is just as mind boggling. Hospital patients will be left to fend for themselves and emergency rooms will not accept the seriously sick or injured.

As far back as August of last year, a nurse from Cainta had become the poster child of the oppressed healthcare workers.

Maria Theresa Cruz, a 47-year-old mother of three, was among the frontliners against the pandemic. She did not have to be, as she herself had her own serious health issues such as an enlarged heart.

Still, Cruz reported for work at the Cainta Municipal Hospital because there was a shortage of nurses.

She tested positive for COVID-19 and passed away on July 22, 2020.

Prior to her passing, Cruz had been counting on her hazard pay of P500/day for working practically nonstop for 60 days.

The Health department had promised that additional pay, which translates to about $10/day on top of her regular salary.

Cruz only received P7,265 instead of the P30,000 she was due. Adding insult to injury, the belated pay was released only after Cruz had passed away.

The reduction of her benefit was the result of an Administrative Order issued by Duterte which called for cost saving measures.

Is this not proof enough of the sheer heartlessness of this corrupt regime?

I’ve met several healthcare pros and their frustration is real. A nurse who is a close friend of my partner quit her job at a hospital and now works for a business process outsourcing company. Her work is still tough, but the benefits are exceptional. She not only earns nearly double what she was making before, but the benefits are also outstanding.

She gets free food and transportation to and from her office, life insurance, dental and medical plan, and overtime pay, among others.

A union president at one of the big, school-owned private hospital told media that they are frustrated that they are not receiving the same benefits as their counterparts in the public sector, although the latter also have their complaints about other related matters.

The public sector healthcare workers have grown exceedingly frustrated at the seemingly unending reports of wholesale corruption in the Health department. Last week’s report from the Commission in Audit confirmed yet again that the DOH is horribly mismanaged.

One can only deduce that the head of the Health department is either totally incompetent or completely corrupt, or both.

Yet President Rodrigo Duterte again unexplainably cleared his Health secretary of any wrongdoing despite proof of his corruption and incompetence staring everybody in the face. This, following the release of the COA report detailing all the shenanigans taking place in the DOH.

Duterte, incidentally, not only cleared Francisco Duque, he also wants the COA to stop releasing its findings to the public.

This then is the regime’s solution to a festering problem. Deny, deny, deny.

At least a plan to buy highly overpriced laptops was aborted when news of the obviously graft-ridden deal was unearthed. Four laptops priced at P175,000 each would have been purchased by the DOH. For that price, one can buy four or five high-end laptops. Not a Mac, maybe, but a good enough unit for daily use.

But the cancelled deal was a mere drop in the bucket.

It’s almost tiring to report on the shameful way that Duterte has allowed the Health department to be a billion-peso milking cow of the Duque family month after month after month.

The threat by private and public heathcare workers is understandable. Much has been expected of them due to the pandemic, and they have delivered.

In exchange, they are not asking for the sun and the moon. All they want is a fair share for the dangerous work they perform as frontliners.

If a medical lockdown is the only way they can be heard, and finally receive what is rightfully theirs, then let it be.