MANILA - Wearing black arm bands with the message "SG15NOW," around 300 nurses held a program in front of the University of Santo Tomas and marched towards the Kartilya ng Katipunan in Manila to call for the Duterte Administration to implement the law raising their basic pay.
Under Republic Act 9173 or the 2002 Philippine Nursing Act, the minimum base pay for nurses in government health institutions should be Salary Grade 15, which is around P30,000. However, government nurses are currently receiving around P20,000 only, or within levels Salary Grade 10 and 11.
Last Oct. 8, the Supreme Court favored a petition by the Ang NARS partylist upholding RA 9173 and the mandated basic pay.
This gave nurses hope, but they were soon dismayed after Health Secretary Francisco Duque issued a statement clarifying that such a ruling could not be implemented yet since there is no budget allocation for a wage increase.
The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) said there is a direct impact on the quality of health care if nurses continue to be both underpaid and overworked.
Ideally, the nurse-to-patient ratio should be 1 nurse to 10 to 12 patients. But many government hospitals assign one nurse to an entire ward, which could have 25 to 40 beds, or even more in bigger hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
Nurses in private hospitals experience even worse pay conditions.
PNA President Erlinda Palaganas said there are still nurses in private hospitals who earn P4,000 to P5,000 a month, forcing them to either leave the country or work in non-related fields.
"A huge number of nurses are in other fields. A lot in BPOs, in spas, health and beauty-related, gyms... Ang tanong, bakit (The question is why)? How can you live with P5,000? Reality bites and there are bills to pay," Palaganas said.
She said the nurses were frustrated at Duque's statement on why the pay hike could not be implemented, adding that health care professionals do not feel the health chief playing his role as their "father."
PNA and other nurses' groups appealed for a dialogue with Duque and plan to lobby at the Senate as well. Palaganas believes since the Senate has yet to approve the proposed 2020 budget, there may still be a way to appropriate funds for the nurses' wage hike.