Regardless of the fatigue all of us are feeling and the prospects of a vaccine arriving sometime next year, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over as more than 1,000 cases are still being reported every day.
Today, while some people have dropped their guard—taking off their masks and face shields in public or failing to maintain a safe distance from others—more than 8,400 Filipinos have died since the pandemic began—and more than 430,000 have been infected by the coronavirus.
Nobody is more acutely aware of this than our front-line health workers, who are regularly extolled as heroes, but who we have discovered, are not treated as such.
Nurses are planning to stage a protest Friday at the Philippine Heart Center to call for the timely payment of salaries and benefits of government health workers, just a week after employees of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) staged a demonstration to call for the same.
The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) says there has been no improvement in their situation in the past months, which is why they need to speak out.
Since the start of the pandemic, various groups have expressed dismay about the treatment of health workers in both government and private hospitals. Besides being at risk for COVID-19, nurses and other health workers have reportedly complained of salary delays.
The PGH health workers who protested last week said they have not received their hazard pay and special risk allowance (SRA) for the last six months.
The Department of Health says the budget should come from the University of the Philippines PGH, but PGH officials say they have no savings to pay the allowances.
Karen Faurillo of the All UP Workers Union says PGH was already in dire need of funds before the pandemic, and it was disappointing to see that the national government was passing the responsibility on to the hospital.
Someone needs to be held accountable for the delay of our COVID hazard pay and SRA, Faurillo says.
“These government agencies have all the resources and power to implement the mandated salaries and benefits for health workers, and yet they become culprits in exploiting the front-line health workers,” says FNU national president Maristela Abenojar.
Robert Mendoza, national president of the Alliance of Health Workers, says more than 16,000 health workers who have yet to receive their COVID hazard pay.
He also questions the government policy of giving COVID hazard pay only to those working inside the COVID ward of hospitals because all hospital employees are exposed to the risk of COVID-19 and should therefore receive hazard pay.
The Department of Health says it takes the issue of delayed salaries “very seriously” and understands how health workers might be demoralized.
Its spokesperson on the COVID-19 pandemic says the department would investigate the complaints at once and come up with a solution, because it values our health care workers.
Sadly, the department has not matched its actions to its words. Efforts to deal with the deadly pandemic have been plagued from the start by delays in the implementation of special laws that provide benefits to health workers.
We need to do better by our health workers. In putting their lives on the line for us, they deserve more than finger pointing and excuses.