By | September 19, 2020
PNA and DBM on nurses salary.

In a strong statement posted online on Friday, Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) has hit the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for issuing a circular that “will create massive demotion of nurses.”

As implementation of Supreme Court ruling upholding the Republic Act 9173 on the provision of Salary Grade 15 entry-level pay for nurses, DBM issued Budget Circular No. 2020-4 this July 2020. In the Circular, only the salary of Nurse I position was increased to SG15. Nurse II to Nurse VII positions were downgraded, retaining their incumbent salary.

DBM said that the move was not a demotion, only a modification of position attributes to retain their current salary.

PNA disagreed, saying that the view of the DBM on the matter is a ‘grand deception at its finest’ and will only create a divided demoralized workforce.

“DBM’s proposal to modify and downgrade position attributes is grossly unfair and irrational. This will demoralize nurses who have been working in their items for a long time but have to be suddenly downgraded and placed at par with the others…Nurses have worked so hard for many years that for Budget Circular No. 2020-4 to lower them numerically is an actual, not merely legal, demotion in the strongest sense,” PNA said in a statement.

Here’s the full text of PNA Statement:

DBM CIRCULAR 2020-4: A PALLIATIVE SOLUTION

On July 17, 2020, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) issued Budget Circular No. 2020-4. Its purpose is “to prescribe the rules and regulations on the upgrading of the entry-level of Nurse positions to SG-15, as well as to highlight the administrative procedures in view of the consequential modification in the position attributes of the Nurse items.” The Budget Circular was issued to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ang Nars Party List, et al. vs. The Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No., 215746, which became final and executory on December 13, 2019. The said decision upheld the provision of R.A. 9173 that provides a minimum base pay of not lower than Salary Grade (SG)-15 for nurses working in the public health institutions.

Many have observed that the said Budget Circular actually caused confusion. DBM claims that there is no “demotion” in the nurses’ ranks. The DBM insists that “while there is modification in the position attributes of Nurse II to Nurse VII items, there will be no change in the salary of the present incumbents of the positions.” This is because the Salary Grade (SG) allocation of Nurse II to Nurse VII items was neither upgraded nor downgraded, and the present SG allocation of the positions was retained.

Nursing groups have been clamoring for a better alternative to this Budget Circular, but none has been enacted up to date. Because there is no clear government alternative in sight, PNA posits that Budget Circular No. 2020-4 should be scrapped as it will create massive demotion of nurses. The entire rank of nurses in the government service will be affected as the Budget Circular will create a divided demoralized workforce.

For the DBM to claim that there will be no demotion caused by the modification in the position attributes is grand deception at its finest. The logic upon which Budget Circular No. 2020-4 was based is fallacious. It is not difficult to understand that under this proposal, those in Nurse II items today will be downgraded to Nurse I in the future. Although the SG allocation is SG 15 for a Nurse I under the new scheme, a Nurse II (under the old scheme) will soon be performing functions of a Nurse I. Under the new scheme, a newly-hired Nurse I will be no different from a Nurse II (who was demoted), considering that by the new position attributes, both enjoy SG 15. This same problem will apply to Nurse II, Nurse III, Nurse IV, Nurse V, and Nurse VI under the new scheme.

How cold could DBM be? It is saying its hands are tied, and it is just implementing the increase of the SG allocation for Nurse I pursuant to the Supreme Court decision. However, its proposal inevitably compresses the number of position levels, as DBM has to increase the SG allocation for Nurse II to Nurse VII. In the process, it has to intentionally abolish one position (Nurse VII) and downgraded the rest considering that the SG allocation for Nurse VII should not exceed SG 24.

As a result, DBM’s proposal to modify and downgrade position attributes is grossly unfair and irrational. This will demoralize nurses who have been working in their items for a long time but have to be suddenly downgraded and placed at par with the others. Worse, DBM’s reply by allaying the fears that there is nevertheless retention of salary grade is discounting the reality on the ground – that nurses have worked so hard for many years that for Budget Circular No. 2020-4 to lower them numerically is an actual, not merely legal, demotion in the strongest sense. The downgrade is substantial and real, not merely anticipated, immaterial, or insignificant. Nurses as stakeholders should have been consulted together with the Civil Service Commission in order that these concerns should have been prevented.

What can be done? If DBM wants to abide by the ruling, then it can still do so by keeping Nurse I item under SG 15. It can also keep Nurse II to Nurse VII items and at the same time, increase the SG allocation for each one, but not exceeding SG 24 for Nurse VII (Chief Nurse), in accordance with existing civil service laws. What is important is that all nurse items should be maintained, with Nurse I enjoying SG 15. There is no need to abolish Nurse VII and downgrade other nurse items. Our government should be sensible to know that downgrading is demotion per se as it has repercussions on job description and patient care. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates this: everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Changing Budget Circular No. 2020-4 is an immediate but also short-term solution, one that does not address the root cause of the nurses’ woes.

The bigger problem is poor, uncoordinated governance. R.A. 9173 was enacted in 2002. The Supreme Court decided on its constitutionality in 2019. DBM is only implementing the law now, it insists. Yet, for 18 years, no one in the government saw the consequence to the other nurse items if the SG allocation for Nurse I entry level would increase. Foresight and prudence could have dictated the need to adjust the salary grade allocation of Nurse II up to Nurse VII accordingly. If a judge looks backward, lawmakers and policy makers alike must look forward. Surely, Budget Circular No. 2020-4 would not have been issued had legislators and policy makers saw the need to amend or repeal R.A. 9173 since its enactment in 2002. To cure this defect permanently, changes in the law would now be necessary. But this brings in another problem. Any repeal or amendment of R.A. 9173 in order to reflect the adjustments of SG allocations will just be another Pyrrhic victory for nurses. Going through the legislative mill takes time, and this is something our nurses cannot afford. What the government wants is to burden them once again.

This is the most damning prevailing evidence of the government’s dissonance. It does not treat nurses’ hard work as a dignified labor.

Had DOH been doing its job in the past and lobbied for adequate compensation for nurses and higher budget for healthcare, then the nurses’ abject status would have been addressed earlier. Had the government approved the Consolidated Senate Bill No. 1826 and House Bill No. 6908 (Security of Tenure Bill), then there would be no contractualization and labor-only contracting today of nurses. Contract of services or job orders involving nurses should have also been addressed a long time ago. These are some of the reasons that compel nurses to work abroad.

Better late than never, the government says, because it is doing all the best it can. Nurses retort in unison: better never late.

Palliative solutions have no place when they affect the right to work and to earn a livelihood. Nurses as advocates must continue to speak up and achieve the goals of a just and humane society. The government must be pressured all the time to recognize that all nurses must enjoy the universal human right to a living wage and a dignified work.

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