THE Senate has approved on third and final reading the proposed P4.1 trillion 2020 budget with a “special provision” for a fund to grant pay increases to nurses in government health institutions.
In Cebu, the head of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) local chapter, Dr.Joseph Stephen Descallar, welcomed this development Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, and said government nurses here are among those who will benefit from this “long overdue” salary grade increase.
But Descallar also asked, what about nurses working in private hospitals?
The base pay of government nurses may increase to Salary Grade 15 or P30,531 a month from the current P18,000 to P20,000 for those hired by the National Government.
The current rate is even lower for those hired by local government units.
The Senate action on Nov. 27, to include in the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) the amount of P3.173 billion needed for the salary upgrade of government nurses, was a step toward implementing provisions of the Philippine Nursing Act.
The pay rate was set by Republic Act 9173 or Philippine Nursing Act of 2002, but it was never implemented for lack of funds.
The law was signed by then President Gloria Arroyo who, in 2009, issued executive orders that pegged the base pay for “Nurse I” from Salary Grade 10 to Salary Grade 11 or P20,754 a month, way below what was stated in the law.
The Supreme Court, acting on the petition of the Ang Nars party-list represented by Rep. Leah Samaco-Paquiz, ruled in October 2019 that government nurses are entitled by law to a minimum monthly salary of P30,531.
It said government nurses’ minimum pay should be pegged at Salary Grade 15, placing them in the same grade as fire personnel and lowest-level Police Officer 1.
Descallar said: “I am thankful to the senators who listened to us, especially to Sen. Richard Gordon, who found ways for our plea to be granted. This is a result of a collaborative effort among nurses, a collective voice that has been heard and answered.”
He said the measure was one way of attracting nurses to work for government-operated hospitals, which are currently understaffed as many nurses opt to work abroad for better pay.
They choose to find work in other countries as they often are burdened by too much work for less pay here.
Nurses in private hospitals are the same, he said. That is why he hoped their salaries would be improved too.
Nurses in private hospitals earn P10,000 to P15,000 with minimum benefits, Descallar said.
Aside from the pay, nurses complain of being overworked and having no security of tenure.
“For wards, one nurse is often in charge of 50 or more patients, especially in big hospitals. In an ideal situation, a nurse can handle only 12 patients at a time. While some nurses assigned in special units such as those in intensive care units and emergency rooms are sometimes given other duties,” Descallar said.
The Senate version of the national budget bill now includes a “special provision” for the salary grade increase as proposed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the vice chairpersons of the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference committee tackling the budget bill.
A Senate press release said Lacson specified that the amount needed to fund the implementation of the Supreme Court decision shall be sourced from appropriations for staffing modifications and upgrading of salaries.
During his interpellation of the Department of Health’s 2020 budget last Nov. 19, Lacson noted P3.173 billion is needed for the salary upgrade of government nurses, so they can attain Salary Grade 15.
“We can introduce a special provision and source the P3 billion from the P12.469 billion under that particular item (miscellaneous personnel benefit fund or MPBF),” he said.
As the funds are already there under MPBF, government nurses need not wait for the passage of legislation or the availability of funds to be provided by the Department of Budget and Management, he added.
“They don’t have to wait six months or another year. By January, once we enact the GAA for 2020, their salary upgrade is taken care of,” Lacson said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said there are no funds for the pay increase as he left it to the Department of Finance and Department of Budget and Management to work on the budget. (PR / JKV)