MANILA - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr vowed on Thursday to raise the deployment cap on Filipino nurses overseas, as low salaries and lack of jobs at home continue to drive many to seek employment abroad.
Speaking at an event marking the 100th anniversary of the Philippine Nurses Association, Mr Marcos said he will "open more slots" for nurses to work overseas and also strive to create opportunities for them domestically.
He did not say when he will revise the cap or how many more slots will be available. Currently, only 7,500 healthcare workers are allowed to work abroad per year.
"As we work hard to improve the state of our healthcare system at home, let us join hands to maintain our country's position as the gold standard when it comes to providing healthcare workers to hospitals and health facilities globally," said Mr Marcos.
The Philippines is a major global supplier of nurses, with government data showing about 316,000 working overseas as at December last year.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said Saudi Arabia, Britain, Germany and Japan have long been the top destinations for Filipino nurses, but strong demand has also emerged due to Covid-19, in places like Singapore and Hong Kong.
The Singapore Nursing Board said that as at last year, more than half of the 10,000 migrant nurses working in the country were Filipinos.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Philippine government banned healthcare workers from working overseas as local hospitals struggled with low manpower amid the spike in Covid-19 cases. This forced hospitals overseas to make do with whatever manpower they had.
The government later replaced the ban with a deployment cap of 7,500 healthcare workers per year.
The POEA earlier said that about 2,000 nurses had left the country between January to May this year.
Nurses are usually overworked and underpaid in the Philippines, forcing many of them to go overseas to provide a better life for their families.
Local hospitals offer starting salaries of around 25,000 pesos (S$620) a month. In Singapore, foreign nurses can earn up to $8,000 a month, perks and bonuses included.
Some healthcare workers in public and private hospitals have also complained about the non-payment of their special risk allowances, equivalent to 25 per cent of their basic monthly salary, and the delayed payment of their Covid-19 compensation claims, even as they continue to take care of patients infected with the virus.
To improve the situation at home, Mr Marcos promised to back the passage of a Bill that would increase nurses' benefits and scholarship opportunities.
He vowed to address the pay gap between nurses working in government hospitals and those employed by private ones, but did not specify concrete steps to make this possible.
He said certification programmes for nurses and primary care workers, as well as leadership development courses, will be continued.
Mr Marcos added that he would address the "uneven distribution" of nurses in the country by addressing the perennial issues of limited health facilities, insufficient benefits and security of tenure.
He said the government had already disbursed 25.82 billion pesos worth of assistance to nurses as at August this year, including Covid-19 sickness and death compensation, meals, accommodation, transportation, life insurance, and other risk allowances.
"I think that's not enough. We're a little short on funds, so that's all that we can give you right now. But you're helping heal the sick. It's hard to put value on the work that you do," said Mr Marcos.