More health workers allowed to leave PH

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    BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL

    NURSES and other health professionals with employment contracts abroad as of August 31 are now allowed to leave the country for their overseas work, Malacañang said yesterday.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said some 1,500 health workers will benefit from the partial lifting of the ban on overseas deployment, which he said was decided on by President Duterte in response to the call of health workers affected by the restriction that stemmed from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    The nurses group “PrisoNurses” thanked the President and expressed hope the ban would be fully lifted soon.

    In April, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) imposed a deployment ban for certain categories of healthcare workers, saying there is a need to ensure that the country will continue to have a steady supply of health personnel amid the pandemic. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) later exempted from the ban those with verified employment contracts as of March 8. Earlier this month, POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia proposed moving the cut-off date to August 31, and this was supported by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

    PrisoNurses president Jerrick Gomez said nurses have long been hoping to be able to leave for work abroad despite dangers from the pandemic.

    “Leaving their families behind is never easy. But hard decisions have to be made to better the lives of their loved ones in the country,” he said.

    He expressed hope a total lifting of the ban, “so the rest of those who are still affected can start with their lives anew.”

    SEAFARERS

    With hundreds of Filipino seafarers stranded amid the pandemic, the POEA directed their principals or employers to provide them assistance.

    Government data shows that 127 Filipino crew members have remained stranded in ships abroad and are still awaiting repatriation; while thousands of seafarers have not been able to leave the country because of community lockdowns imposed during the pandemic.

    In Resolution No. 13 – 2020, the POEA said, “It is the paramount duty of the POEA to provide Filipino seafarers with the fullest possible protection and benefit coverage under normal circumstances and even more so during situations of instability, crisis, or pandemic due to the increased vulnerabilities of the said workers.”

    According to the interim guidelines on the deployment and repatriation of Filipino seafarers amid the pandemic, a seafarer who has signed an employment contract but cannot be deployed due to COVID-19-related reasons that are not attributable to the seafarer, such as flight cancellation or change in government regulations, shall be provided accommodation and food at the principal/employer’s cost until the seafarer is deployed or his/her contract is canceled and he/she has returned home.

    It also said that a seafarer who has left the country but becomes stranded during transit due to COVID-19-related reasons not attributable to the seafarer, shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal employer’s cost until the seafarer joins the vessel.

    The POEA also said that a seafarer, who has signed the contract and left the point of hire but was unable to join the ship and is repatriated for reasons related to COVID-19 shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal/ employer’s cost, until he returns home.

    A seafarer who has left but cannot join the ship and/or cannot be repatriated for reasons related to COVID-19 and is in a quarantine facility, shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal/ employer’s cost until the seafarer joins the vessel or arrives at the point of hire.

    On the other hand, the interim guidelines provide that a seafarer, who has completed his period of contractual service on board but cannot be repatriated, has not signed off and who is not working while his/her replacement is already on board, shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal/ employer’s cost until the seafarer arrives at the point of hire.

    It added that a seafarer, who has completed his period of contractual service on board and has signed off, but cannot be repatriated and is ashore, shall be paid basic pay, accommodation, food, and medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal/ employer’s cost, until the seafarer arrives at the point of hire.

    The POEA also requires that a seafarer, who is discharged for just cause that is not related to COVID-19 and is stranded, shall be provided accommodation, food, medical (sickness, accident, D&D) at principal employer’s cost, until the seafarer arrives at the point of hire.

    Finally, a seafarer, who is repatriated to the point of hire but is not yet home and is in quarantine, shall be provided accommodation and food at principal/employer’s cost, unless otherwise provided by the government.