SENATOR Joel Villanueva hailed Malacañang’s reversal of a DBM circular demoting many public nurses in rank and pay “as a justice done to these brave frontliners who are working tirelessly during the pandemic.”
While thankful, Villanueva is pressing the government to take the next step in rewarding nurses and other healthcare workers for their pandemic service by granting them long delayed “step increases” in pay.
The senator explained that under the government sector pay scale, “a salary grade (SG) has eight steps, which means employees can remain in the same SG but can enjoy a pay hike if they move up the steps.”
Entry level position of nurses to the public sector is SG 16, whose Step 1 monthly pay is P36,628, but this goes up to P37,891 in Step 4, and P39,650 in Step 8.
To illustrate, three nurses on paper may all hold an SG 21 item, but will have the following differences in pay: Step I, P60,901; Step IV, P63,777 and Step VIII, P67,837.
Villanueva believes that many nurses meet, if not exceed, the requisites for “step increases” based on existing rules, but agencies have been slow in granting them.
“The other roadblock is the availability of funds so I’ve been advocating that the cost of these merit increases be provided for in the yearly national budget,” Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said.
Ideally, a government worker who has performed well should be given a salary grade promotion, he said “but in the interim, and in between the SG promotion, a step increase will do.”
Villanueva aired his appeal in the wake of a June 1 memorandum by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, reversing a Department of Budget and Management circular, which, while raising the entry-level SG of a Nurse I, demoted Nurses II to VII to one rank lower.
The senator also backed calls by nurses’ groups that the government pay nurses affected by the temporary demotion back wages.
“The salary differential must be given to them immediately. The order must have a retroactive effect insofar as compensation is concerned,” he said.
Meanwhile, Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said the P29.3 billion compensation adjustment fund can be used to give demoted government nurses their back pay.
Defensor urged the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to tap the said funds in the 2021 national budget.
According to Defensor, the appropriation, officially called miscellaneous personnel benefits fund (MPBF), “is precisely for contingencies like the salary differential our nurses are entitled to because the Office of the President has reversed their demotion by the DBM last year.”
The budget law states that the MPBF could be used “for deficiencies in authorized salaries, bonuses, allowances, associated premiums, and similar benefits” of government personnel, he said.
He added the fund is on top of regular appropriations for salaries, which amount to about P1.3 trillion this year.
Likewise, Defensor said, the savings from last year’s P56.7-billion MPBF could also be used for the demoted nurses’ salary differential.
The nurses’ demotion, labelled by the DBM as “modification of position attributes,” is contained in DBM Circular 2020-4 issued on July 17, 2020.
Under the circular, Nurse ll to Nurse Vll positions were downgraded by one rank and Nurse Vll was abolished. Thus, Nurse ll became Nurse l, Nurse lll became Nurse ll and so on up to Nurse Vll, which was “modified” to Nurse Vl.
However, Nurse lll to Nurse Vll holders, though they suffered a one-rank downgrade, retained their corresponding salary levels, from Salary Grade 17 to SG 24 ( P39,986 to P86,743).
In the case of Nurse ll personnel, they were not only demoted in rank to Nurse 1 but their basic salary was decreased as well, from SG 16 to SG 15 or by P3,053.
They were lumped with new recruits, who, under the law and an October 2019 Supreme Court ruling written by then Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, should be given SG 15 pay (about P33,575), which is now the hiring rate for government nurses.
With the OP order, all nurse positions were restored, while Nurse ll holders were entitled to SG 16 pay (P36,628 to P39,650 depending on length of service), instead of SG 15 (P33,575 to P36,323).
Defensor said if the claim of nurses at the Philippine General Hospital that the controversial July 2020 DBM was made to retroact to January last year is accurate, “then our nurses should be paid salary differential for 18 months up to this month and not only for one year, or about P54,000 each.”
With Jester Manalastas