WITH sufficient funding for all additional benefits of healthcare workers apparently still uncertain, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has said that the long-term solution to guarantee such extra remuneration for these medical frontliners is for Congress to write new legislation providing them with hazard pay plus substantial increases in the current rates of their overtime pay and other compensation.
Villafuerte said the congressional approval of two pending measures, which he both authored, will prevent a repeat of the current unrest among medical personnel resulting from the undue delay in the release of their hazard pay and other pandemic-related benefits.
He issued this statement as Health Sec. Francisco Duque III informed the House committee on appropriations at a recent hearing that the benefits for healthcare workers were no longer included in the Department of Health (DoH)’s proposed budget after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had slashed next year’s DoH outlay for coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) response from P73.99 billion to just P19.68 billion.
Duque said the original P73.99-billion proposal included P50.41 billion for the special risk allowance, meals and transportation allowance of healthcare workers.
The health secretary said separately there is also no allocation next year for the additional benefits because such financial aid for healthcare workers was tucked in the Bayanihan to Arise as One bill (Bayanihan 3), the stimulus bill that the House had already approved but which is still pending at the Senate.
“The additional budgetary support for the benefits is lodged in the Bayanihan 3 bill and that is what has been submitted,” Duque was reported as telling the House appropriations committee. Villafuerte said, ”The growing unrest is alarming, especially given the problems plaguing the country’s healthcare infrastructure and the looming shortage of medical frontliners. We need to write these bills into laws soon enough so that the release of such benefits for healthcare workers will be mandatory without any need for a presidential directive.”
President Duterte earlier gave the DoH and DBM a 10-day deadline to release the benefits that are due healthcare workers on the frontlines of the country’s battle against COVID-19.
The Chief Executive issued the deadline to the DoH and DBM after several health workers’ groups lamented that they have yet to receive their allowances and benefits amid the pandemic.
Under House Bill (HB) No. 7490, Villafuerte wants the government to provide hazard pay to all healthcare frontliners, equivalent to at least 30 percent of their respective basic salaries, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Villafuerte, who was the principal author in the House of both the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws, made sure that the proposed hazard pay will also be given to workers of third-party service contractors like security guards and janitors who are assigned to medical facilities treating coronavirus-infected patients.
HB 7490 applies to all healthcare workers in the public and private sector.
His other measure, HB 9670, seeks to amend the existing Magna Carta of Public Health Workers by increasing the rates for their overtime pay and other incentives and benefits.
HB 9670 aims to increase the night shift differential pay of public health workers from 10% to 20% of the regular wage they receive.
The bill also seeks to raise the additional amount they receive for each hour of work performed between 6 PM and 6AM the following day from 10% to 20% of such overtime rate.
It also provides for a P300 daily subsistence allowance and P10,000 monthly hazard allowance for each public health worker.
These amounts may be increased as may be determined in the future by the Secretary of Health, the bill states.
The laundry allowance of public health workers required to wear uniforms will also be increased from P125 to P500 per month or higher as may be determined in the future by the health secretary, HB 9670 states.
Villafuerte said frontline health workers have long been complaining about the delay in the release of their pandemic benefits under the Bayanihan 2 law and the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.
Earlier, Villafuerte said the House of Representatives should slash the DoH budget in the proposed 2022 National Expenditure program (NEP) should its top officials led by Duque “fall flat” in justifying to Congress their alleged “criminal negligence” in failing to use all of last year’s state funds plus P3.4 billion in foreign aid intended for the country’s COVID-19 response.
He said his proposed cut in the DoH’s budget for 2020 should be realigned and given to other agencies that need more funds to fight the coronavirus and assist families, businesses and other sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
Villafuerte said the House should demand that DoH officials make a full disclosure and explain how they spent their COVID-19 response funds since 2020, following the release of a Commission on Audit (CoA) report that flagged discrepancies in this agency’s use of its P67.23-billion budget last year intended for the country’s fight against the lingering pandemic.