A MILITANT labor group urged the government Monday to boost local health care to ensure that recent nursing graduates will not go unemployed as the slowdown in the hiring of Filipino nurses abroad continues.

Elmer Labog, chairperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), said failure to strengthen the local health care system would only doom the nursing graduates to unemployment or meager jobs here and abroad just to make both ends meet.

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“A significant portion of the 37,527 new passers in the recent nursing board exams may end up doing part-time or contractual jobs, or, worse, being without jobs at all as major world economies prioritize homegrown nurses amid the ongoing global crisis,” Labog said, echoing earlier concerns raised by various nursing association including the Philippine Nursing Association (PNA), the country’s largest organization of nurses.

The labor leader said this can be avoided if only the government has been more proactive in addressing the problem of the local health industry and the decline in demand for Filipina nurses.

“The problem which new nurses face is that the government has failed to wake up to the reality of the oversupply of nurses and to craft strategic employment program for them,” Labog said.

The government pursues the labor export policy despite the slowdown in the demand for nurses aboard. The KMU is expecting them to join the growing unemployed and underemployed nurses here and abroad.

Even the short-term emergency employment program implemented last year by the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) will not solve the problem, the group said.

The Dole initiated the “Nurses Assigned in Rural Service (NARS)” February last year. The project was supposedly mitigating the impact of the global economic downturn on labor.

The first batch of 5,000 registered nurses was deployed in 1,000 poorest municipalities nationwide last June. Five nurses were deployed in each selected municipality. Nurses who had completed a three-month rotation in rural health units and another three months in hospitals last September were given a monthly stipend of P8,000.

In the second batch, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instructed the labor department to modify the project in such a way the participants would act as roving nurses in district schools. The general orientation of the Batch II nurses is slated on October 15-16, 2009.

But the group said it is “obviously a short-term measure,” absorbing jobless nurses for only six months.

“Most newly-licensed nurses face a tragic fate, as they spend time and money in college only to land in contractual work that may even be unrelated to what they studied. Like other workers and employees, they are victims of the government’s failure to create decent and stable jobs at home,” Labog noted.

Instead of this short-term relief, Labog urged the government to focus on the creation of regular healthcare jobs by creating more public hospitals, strengthening existing government hospitals and providing sufficient support and facilities to rural healthcare.

“By doing so, the pressing social need for improved and sufficient healthcare is also addressed apart from providing jobs for local nurses. ‘Livelihood for social justice,’ that is how it should be solved,” he concluded.

Last year, a high-ranking official of the PNA warns that the number of jobless Filipino nurses is likely to swell further with the ongoing slump in the hiring of medical professionals in the United States, United Kingdom and other previous favorite destination for the next two years.

Citing official data, Dr. Fely Marilyn Lorenzo of the University of the Philippines Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies said the current situation indicated a falling trend in hiring of Filipino nurses for the past years.

From a total of 5,790 in year 2000, the number of Filipino nurses hired in the United States dropped to 771 in year 2007, according to Lorenzo citing records from the Commission on Filipino Overseas.

She said that last year, only eight Filipino nurses are leaving the country every month to work in the United States every month.

Experts blamed this on the ongoing global economic slump, stricter migration regulations and the presence of other nationals competing for the same job opportunities.

The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) said 37,527 have passed the 2009 nursing licensure exams administered last November.

On a positive note, Lorenzo expressed confidence that the downtrend would just be temporary and deployment abroad would again post growth by 2011. (AH/Sunnex)