AN alliance of overseas Filipino (OFWs) workers slammed recent statements by Labor officials offering to lift the cap on the deployment of healthcare workers to the United Kingdom and Germany in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines from the two countries.
In a statement on Wednesday, Migrante International said such a proposition is a “desperate move” on the part of government that exploits overseas workers to make up for its shortcomings in implementing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination program.
“(I)t has failed to safeguard the Filipino people from the COVID health crisis, and address the worsening economic crisis that has brought about historic levels of unemployment and poverty in the country,” the group said.
In a briefing on Tuesday, International Labor Affairs Bureau Director Alice Q. Visperas said Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III proposed to the two countries that the Philippine government will lift the current deployment cap on healthcare workers in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines.
Ms. Visperas said the vaccines from this arrangement would be used for displaced OFWs and those who will leave the country for work.
The presidential palace on Wednesday welcomed the Labor department’s statement, saying it is consistent with the national government’s policy to secure more vaccine supplies.
“Nag-order po tayo ng sapat, sobra sobra pa, 90 million, sinobrahan pa nga natin. Pero siyempre kung mas maraming supply ang makukuha natin, bakit hindi? (We have ordered enough, even in excess at 90 million doses. But of course if we can get more supply, why not?),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a televised press briefing.
Mr. Roque, however, said the President has yet to be informed of the proposal.
“This is an idea of Secretary Bello. We welcome this because more is better than less,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Philippine government banned the deployment of nurses at the start of the lockdown in mid-March last year, but later eased the restriction based on the employee’s contract signing date.
The UK’s envoy to the Philippines, meanwhile, said their government will not be “linking” vaccine access to the recruitment of nurses.
“I’d say that we’ve got no plans to link vaccines with those conversations around the recruitment of nurses,” British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel R. Pruce told reporters in a roundtable meeting.
Mr. Pruce said the UK has made a “very empathic commitment” of providing surplus vaccines to the World Health Organization under the global initiative for equal access to vaccines.
“That’s really where the situation is now. And obviously our discussion with the government on both healthcare workers and wider COVID response issues continue. But I think that encapsulates where the specific issue stands at the moment,” he said.— Gillian M. Cortez, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, and Vann Marlo M. Villegas