Tuesday, July 07, 2015

[Vital Signs Column] Unionising the Filipino Nurses

Photo source: libcom.org
Alvin Cloyd Dakis, RN
July 2015 Issue

Recently, I got the chance to talk to one of the top leaders of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) and he mentioned that there is now a proposal to unionize the PNA so it can better lobby for higher pay for nurses and to protect the welfare of nurses – after all nurses are health workers. I’m not quite sure how the elder nurses would react to this proposal, though I believe younger nurses would support this call, probably because almost all younger nurses are subjects to discriminations, unfair labor practices, hazardous work conditions, and meager salaries.
This got me thinking, is it necessary for PNA to transform itself into a union? What are the implications if it were be a union? And what does it take to become one?

Filipino Nurses are tired of being undervalued, underpaid, and overworked. These tiresome situations are making many nurses frustrated of their current situation; it’s as if we are in a labyrinth of misery. Many thought that PNA has not done a pretty good job in protecting the welfare of nurses and to uplift the profession – but some of us are not giving up on the only accredited professional organization just yet. So the idea of unionizing came into mind.

Typically by collective bargaining with an employer/s or business owner/s, unions were successful in winning increases in wages and salaries, better job security, and more favorable work environments and arrangement for their members.

The Labor Code of the Philippines declared that it is the policy of the State to promote and emphasize the primacy of free collective bargaining and negotiations, including voluntary arbitration, mediation and conciliation, as modes of settling labor or industrial disputes; promote free trade unionism as an instrument for the enhancement of democracy and the promotion of social justice and development; foster the free and voluntary organization of a strong and united labor movement; promote the enlightenment of workers concerning their rights and obligations as union members and as employees; provide an adequate administrative machinery for the expeditious settlement of labor or industrial disputes; ensure a stable but dynamic and just industrial peace; and ensure the participation of workers in decision and policy-making processes affecting their rights, duties and welfare.
But because these things would usually be more costly for employers, attempts for unionization are viewed negatively or are blocked by some of them. Some employees might also view joining a union would mean they are becoming an activist or joining an activist group.

In unions, employees (either from the same workplace or with other employees from other workplaces) would agree to be a collective and negotiate for better working conditions (that includes increases in salaries and benefits, and other things that will help them become more productive). If such union gains members exponentially, then it becomes official and can be registered under the Department of Labor and Employment, which will now become a legitimate labor organization. And with this, the employer now is required by law to negotiate with the union which represents the workers.

So the question is that, is it necessary for PNA to transform itself as a federation or confederation of nurses unions? The answer to that is Yes and No. Yes, because PNA can lobby for greater salaries and benefits for nurses through the collective bargaining of their affiliated nurses unions and nationally through PNA; and No, because I believe that PNA can achieve this even without becoming a union.

Let me expand the second point. PNA has been in existence for years as the sole accredited professional organization of nurses in the country but it has not optimized its capacity to lobby for policies or utilize the potentials it has to influence key stakeholders relevant to the nurses’ welfare. If PNA can maximize this and become highly active in drafting policies, lobbying the same to the Philippine Congress and national government agencies, monitor and evaluate the progress of drafted policies, and continuously generate demand through all its members and the public in general through different innovative but effective means, then the recommendation for a unionization might not be much relevant.

However, efforts to unionize the PNA might be a good motivation for its leaders and members to become active and to really dive deep into the core of the multitude of problems Filipino nurses, both here and abroad, are facing every day. And so for this main reason, I throw in my support to unionize the Philippine Nurses Association.

I won’t elaborate on how PNA shall transform itself into a Union because it is not my expertise to do so. But as an advocate of progressive change and protection of the welfare of nurses, perhaps I can share some of my insights should PNA successfully convert itself into a Union.

One of the things PNA and its leaders might want to look into is how labor organizations are registered in the Philippines and how it can affect the composition of its local chapters and functional units. According to Title IV Chapter I of the Labor Code of the Philippines, which extensively elaborated the registration and cancellation of labor organizations, national unions or federations must have “proof of at least ten (10) locals or chapters, each of which must be duly recognized collective bargaining agent in the establishment or industry in which it operates, supporting the registration of such applicant federation or national union” (Art. 237) provided that national unions or federations shall only be registered to engage in organizational activities in one industry in any area or region and all over the country.

Article 238 further details that the federation or national unions which have met the requirements and conditions prescribed “may organize and affiliate locals and chapters without registering such locals or chapters with the Bureau [of Labor Relations]”. And that “Locals or chapters shall have the same rights and privileges as if they were registered in the Bureau, provided that such federation or national union organizes such locals or chapters within its assigned organizational field of activity.”

PNA must aim to become a legitimate labor organization where it will have the right to act as representative of its members (locals/chapters) for the purpose of collective bargaining and to become the certified as the exclusive representative of all the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit for purposes of collective bargaining. As a legitimate labor organization it can own properties, real or personal, for the use and benefit of the organization and its members and can undertake other activities including cooperative, housing, and other activities designed to benefit its members and the organization as long as it is not contrary to the law.

Also, the income and the properties of legitimate labor organizations, including grants, donations, or contributions from similar organizations, local or foreign, shall be free from taxes, duties, or assessments.

It is also interesting to note that nurses in the managerial position and above are ineligible to join, assist, or form the national union of nurses that is being proposed to be organized. Although nurses in the supervisory position are ineligible for membership in a labor organization of the rank-and-file employees, but they may join, assist, or form a separate labor organization of their own (Art. 243-245). In this note, nurse managers, senior officials, and employers are all ineligible to join the reformulated PNA. This may pose questions on the inclusiveness of the PNA as the only accredited organization in the Philippines. They might want to look into the model of nurses unions in both the U.S. and Canada where the organized nurses unions are separate from its national nursing organizations.

As of this writing I still do not have an idea how PNA would transform itself into a national union and with the question in inclusiveness of its membership in nurses serving in the managerial position upwards, PNA will have to study its steps very carefully, and to take caution of all legal and organizational implications the “transformation” may cause.

At the end of the day, it is with the best intent to help the ordinary Filipino Nurse in his/her welfare. It is in my deepest hope that PNA will be able to create, implement, and properly monitor, an effective system to genuinely help its members and all the Filipino Nurses in the country. And it is my call to every nurse in the Philippines to help in every way possible the Philippine Nurses Association to make it the organization working for the betterment of the profession.

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1 comment:

  1. The PNA should not be directly involved in collective bargaining. It must remain a body solely responsible for protecting the health consumer. As a body, it must msintain the nursing profession to the highest standards, again, for the protection of the public.

    Collective bargaining must be a completely separate entity from the PNA. Collective bargaining is for the protection and welfare of the nurses primarily although one of the collective bargaining principles should always be for the protection and welfare of our patients.

    I belong to one of the most successful and professional nursing unions in the United States. There is the right way of organizing for the benefit of both the employer and of the employee. Let me know how I can assist you or any interested group of nurses. Organizing is not easy as it may seem.