'State of limbo': Labor groups oppose deployment ban on health workers

MANILA, Philippines – A coalition of labor unions and advocacy groups are opposing the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) ban on the foreign deployment of health workers, saying it violates their right to travel and constitutional protection from involuntary servitude.

The Nagkaisa Labor Coalition on Black Saturday, April 11, called on Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to “review, recall, and hold in abeyance” the ban’s implementation.

“Other than [being] a violation of the right to travel, this ban is also problematic, and might be an order imposing involuntary servitude prohibited by the fundamental law. Under Article III, Section 18 (2), the [1987] Constitution [states]: ‘No involuntary servitude in any form shall exist except as a punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,’” the group said in a statement.

Article 13 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to leave any country including their own, and to return to their country, Nagkaisa added.

“We are placing our health workers in state of limbo or uncertainty. We cannot just ban health workers [from going] abroad to work when it is not clear whether the DOLE or DOH will utilize their skills or they will be hired or compensated during the temporary deployment suspension,” said Nagkaisa chair Sonny Matula.

Because of the ban, several nurses and health workers about to return to their jobs abroad were “offloaded from their flights,” and now stand to lose those jobs for their inability to fulfill their contracts, Matula added, calling the situation “unfair.”

‘Temporary’ ban

On April 2, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which is under DOLE, signed a resolution to temporarily suspend the deployment of healthcare workers abroad in order to “prioritize human resource allocation” within the Philippines as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Negotiations for labor agreements on government-to-government deployment of healthcare workers are also suspended for the duration of the national state of emergency over the pandemic.

The ban covers doctors, nurses, microbiologists, molecular biologists, clinical analysts, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, X-ray technicians, nursing assistants, medical equipment operators, health services and personal care supervisors, as well as medical equipment repairmen.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr has expressed vehement opposition to the ban, and called it an “abomination” that violates the Constitution. He said the Department of Foreign Affairs will “fight the ban” in the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases and in the Cabinet.

The IATF is set to convene on Monday, April 13, and Locsin said he plans to resolve the matter then.

In its statement, Nagkaisa also called on the government to raise the P500 daily stipend for volunteer health workers, and extend it to private health workers, too. It also urged the government to properly hire the workers it enlisted in the fight against the pandemic instead of having them as volunteers. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.