New social protection floors in the Philippines to cover CHWS, contractual gov’t employees

Public sector trade unions have welcomed an announcement from the Philippines Government that recently approved social protection floors (SPFs) will cover precarious public services workers including community health workers, known as barangay health workers (BHWs).

BHWs are community health workers who deliver vital public health education, prevention and primary care who have been denied the right to secure work, a wage and social protection in the past. Unions affiliated with the Global Union Federation, PSI, like PSLINK (Public Services Labor Independent Confederation), have been campaigning for BHWs and other precarious workers delivering public services to be entitled to decent work, including a fair wage and social protection.

The new SPFs covers vulnerable people including children, the elderly and informal sector and precarious workers. The policy includes emergency employment, livelihood, trainings and social insurances. The new policy also facilitates automatic enrolment in social insurance (i.e. health insurance, pension and housing contributions) of workers under job orders (JOs) and contract of service (COS) in government institutions.

PSLINK President and PSI Vice President, Annie Geron said, “The inclusion of contractual workers and BHWs in this new policy is a welcome news for hundreds of thousands of workers who have been providing public service despite the lack of job security and benefits. We are happy that our many years of lobbying and campaigning has finally borne fruit. We shall make sure that the benefits of this new SPF will be enforced to the fullest and we shall continue to fight for better policies and programs that advance decent work for workers and quality public services.”

Geron added that BHWs and contractual workers in public services for many years have been taken for granted by the government. “Aside from lack of employment security, many contractual and job order workers in government work tirelessly with limited income. BHWs for instance receive mere allowances way below the minimum wage even if they practically work 24/7 because they are on on-call. They provided crucial service to the people which we witnessed during the pandemic. BHWs were in the frontlines of the community health centres and augmented the dire lack of public health workers during that crucial period. This new policy that gives them minimum social protection is such an overdue. They totally deserve it and they deserve even more.”  

For more than two decades, PSLINK has been organising and campaigning for the rights and welfare of BHWs in the Philippines. PSLINK and PSI highlighted the plight and concerns of BHWs especially during the pandemic. The union together with groups of BHWs across the country has been at the forefront of the campaign for a Magna Carta for Barangay Health Workers for many years. In December 2022, the proposed legislation (House Bill 6557) gained unanimous approval in the country’s lower house of Congress. A version of the bill is currently being deliberated in the Philippine Senate.

Kate Lappin, PSI Asia Pacific Regional Secretary also welcomed the policy announcement. PSI has been supporting unions across Asia to organise CHWs, the vast majority of whom are women. “For too long women community health workers have been expected to care for the community and provide front line public health services while their own livelihood, health, and security are undermined. The announcement that BHWs will be covered by the social protection floor is great news for workers in the Philippines and will inspire workers across the region”.

In 2022 an expert committee of the International Labour Organisation reviewed standards applied to the care workforce and found that Community Health Workers are “undoubtedly covered by the fundamental rights and principles at work”.#