NEWS reports indicated yesterday that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has offered Germany and the United Kingdom, along with other European countries needing the services of our doctors, nurses, and other medical workers, easy hiring and exemption from the deployment cap of Filipino health care workers, if only they could provide the Philippines with access to western-developed COVID-19 vaccines.
Secretary Bello’s offer also includes the renewal of bilateral agreements with the two countries that cover the protection of Filipino workers.
It can be recalled that the Duterte administration placed a cap on the deployment of Filipino nurses and healthcare workers seeking jobs abroad during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic last year. This labor policy, however controversial, was taken by the government to ensure the sufficient supply of healthcare professionals in local hospitals.
Then as now, demand for Asian medical workers is strong, and the Philippines has proven to fill the labor gap abroad even as the country itself is coming out from the doldrums in the area of medical care.
‘While we support all workable ideas that will lead to the nation’s access to COVID-19 vaccines, care must be taken by the Department of Labor not to unduly put our nurses, doctors, medical technologists and hospital attendants in harm’s way…’
The reaction from certain sectors in Europe is one of acceptance of Bello’s offer, with leaders of both countries welcoming the idea. Sources in the Department of Foreign Affairs said “Europe appreciated the offer” and some leaders were already thinking about how best to accommodate Bello, if the idea that he floated became national policy.
However good, Bello’s suggestion should undergo the usual scrutiny from the experts in government and in the private sector, especially the groups most affected by it.
For instance, many nurses and their friends in social media are showing signs of being wary.
The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) called on the government to include nurses in their negotiations with the other countries to ensure that their welfare and interests are protected. PNA president Melbert Reyes stressed that the government should not make it appear that Filipino nurses and healthcare workers are “mere commodities” that could be traded in exchange for the vaccines. Reyes, however, sees the “win-win” possibility in Bello’s idea, because it will hasten the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines, and provide jobs and incomes that are badly needed in a recovering economy such as ours.
While we support all workable ideas that will lead to the nation’s access to COVID-19 vaccines, care must be taken by the Department of Labor not to unduly put our nurses, doctors, medical technologists and hospital attendants in harm’s way, while they sacrifice in helping other people’s fight the pandemic.