Why not? Labor chief wants more Pinoy nurses exempted from overseas deployment ban

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III today said that he wants more Filipino nurses to be exempted from the government’s own deployment ban, which aims to ensure that the country has enough skilled medical workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary ban which stops health workers from pursuing employment abroad was announced in April, but it allowed those who have been hired on or before March 8 to leave the country.

Bello told cable news channel ANC that he, along with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), has recommended to the country’s COVID-19 task force that the exemption “should cover not only those who completed their requirements by March 8 but also those who completed their papers as of August 31.”The secretary said he expects the task force to support the recommendation within the week, after which it will be sent to President Rodrigo Duterte for his approval.

Read: ‘I love my countrymen’: Duterte mulls stopping healthcare workers from moving overseas

Bello said that the country will not suffer a huge loss by extending the exemption ban to Aug. 31, which he said will only deploy as much as 1,200 health workers, citing POEA figures.

“Many will still be left behind… [We’re looking at] 800 to 900 completed papers [between April to August], so our medical services will not be largely dislocated, it won’t present a huge loss,” the secretary added.

Over the weekend, seven Filipino nurses who were bound for the United Kingdom were stopped by immigration officials from leaving the country. Bello said this was “a case of oversight” on the Bureau of Immigration’s part “and they have already corrected it.” Five of the nurses have already flown back to the UK, and the other two are expected to fly out tomorrow.

For now, all new health workers who completed their employment papers on March 8 will be allowed to fly out the country, as well as vacationing Filipino workers who were supposed to return abroad but were stranded in the country because of the lockdowns. They will only need to present a visa and an Overseas Employment Certificate issued by the POEA to clear immigration.

Read: Nightingales in Peril: Filipino nurses put their lives on the line in the UK

Duterte has been on the fence about Pinoy nurses leaving the country for greener pastures since April, saying that he understands the need for “self-preservation” but worries about the possible shortage of frontliners in the country. Poor pay in the country has urged many skilled nurses to leave the Philippines in favor of countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the UK, where salaries are much higher.

According to government figures, an entry-level registered nurse in the Philippines receives an average salary of  PHP9,757 (US$200) a month in public hospitals and around PHP13,500 (US$277) in private institutions. Meanwhile, an entry-level position in the UK pays an average of GB£2,000 (US$2,627) a month as of August this year.

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