DOLE clarifies issue on proposal to trade health workers for COVID-19 vaccines

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The Department of Labor and Employment on Wednesday clarified that it did not intend to treat nurses and other healthcare workers as commodities to be traded in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines from the United Kingdom and Germany. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 24) — The Department of Labor and Employment on Wednesday clarified that it did not intend to treat nurses and other healthcare workers as commodities to be traded in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines from the United Kingdom and Germany.

The agency stressed that it merely wants to ensure that the additional workers to be deployed would have already been vaccinated using doses from the requesting country.

"Ang gusto lamang na tiyakin ay 'yung ipapadalang mga nurses ay nabakunahan na and the vaccine should come from the host country," DOLE public information head Rolly Francia told the media. "Hindi rin intensyon na ituring na commodity ang ating mga nurses para ibarter with whatever material gain that we may [get]."

[Translation: We just want to make sure that the nurses who will be deployed have already been vaccinated and the vaccine should come from the host country. It was not our intention to treat our nurses as commodities that we can barter with whatever material gain we may get.]

The labor official added that negotiations are still ongoing between Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce. He said the DOLE might also ask the UK to send more vaccines that would cover overseas Filipino workers returning to the Philippines.

"Considering na napakagallante or generous ng pamahalaan ng UK, baka sakali, request lang naman na 'yun, kung magbibigay, dagdagan na lang," said Francia. "Halimbawa kung 5,000 'yung request nilang nurses, alangan naman for 5,000 nurses 'yung vaccine na ibibigay nila, baka kaya magbigay na more than that to cover OFWs who have been repatriated to the Philippines."

[Translation: Considering that the UK government is gallant and generous, it is only a request, but maybe they can add vaccines more than for the requested 5,000 nurses, to cover the OFWs who have been repatriated to the Philippines.]

In an earlier Senate hearing, Bello said the UK and Germany have requested to remove the 5,000 deployment cap that the Philippine government imposed on its healthcare workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two days ago, International Labor Affairs Bureau Director Alice Visperas said Bello set two conditions for this to happen — one of which is for their governments to send coronavirus vaccines to the Philippines.

Bello's proposal was met with fierce criticism from an organization of nurses.

"We are being traded by the government like export products?" the Filipino Nurses United said in a social media post on Tuesday.

Visperas added that the other condition is for the UK to revisit and renew the 2002 and 2003 bilateral labor agreements. She said the decision may be finalized this week.

The Duterte administration in April 2020 barred nurses, doctors, and other medical workers from leaving the Philippines to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The ban was lifted in November, but the government only allowed 5,000 health workers to leave annually.

The Philippines has been a labor exporting country since the 1970s, with migrant workers often hailed as modern-day heroes. Remittances from workers overseas boost the local economy and are a big source of disposable income among Filipino families.