x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sacked Filipino nurses still hope to be rehired

Philippine embassy says it will not lift ban on hiring to Al Mafraq Hospital until case is settled.

ABU DHABI // Dozens of Filipino nurses are still hoping to be rehired by Al Mafraq Hospital after it refused to renew their contracts last year. The hospital claims the nurses, as well as scores of others from countries including India, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, had failed basic competency tests.

The nurses deny this, claiming they were arbitrarily and unfairly dismissed. However, the Court of Appeal ruled in the hospital's favour earlier this year. Twenty-four nurses are now pursuing the case before the civil and lower courts. The Philippine government has frozen the hiring of nurses to the hospital on the recommendation of its embassy. At a meeting in May, Filipino diplomats told the hospital that the nurses should be rehired, paid their end-of-service benefits, and given positive references. They also asked it to consider the humanitarian cases of some nurses and their families with medical needs.

In response, the hospital has drafted a reference letter that makes no reference to the nurses' competence. It has said it will issue the letter and pay end-of-service benefits if the nurses withdraw their complaint and the Philippines lifts the hiring freeze. The nurses have said this latest offer is not acceptable, insisting they should be reinstated and have their contracts renewed. The matter is now back with the embassy.

Romy Castillo, who represents the sacked Filipino nurses, said 24 who pursued their cases in the Abu Dhabi courts would like to return to their jobs at Al Mafraq Hospital. "There is no guarantee that the nurses will get new jobs if they would get that endorsement letter," he said. "The nurses are demanding their reinstatement and renewal of their contracts at Al Mafraq Hospital." Some nurses have been unemployed for up to nine months. One nurse, who has been with the hospital for 24 years, was informed last August that her contract would not be renewed in October, he said.

Eighty-four of the 104 Filipino nurses whose employment was terminated filed a complaint, but only 40 of their cases were heard by the Court of Appeal. The appeal court ruled that the decision not to renew the employment contract of the nurses was not arbitrary and therefore lawful. But it referred the nurses back to the Court of First Instance, for it to re-examine the second part of their lawsuit, which demands the return of their nursing licences.

After the appeal court's verdict, 24 Filipino nurses hired a new lawyer and filed a case before the civil courts and the Court of First Instance. A court hearing date has not been set. Noel Servigon, the consul general at the embassy, said the priority was for "the nurses to find secure employment in the near future". Nasser Munder, the Filipino labour attaché in Abu Dhabi, said the ban on deploying Filipino nurses at Al Mafraq would not be lifted until the issue was settled.

The Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi made a similar move in November, according to Mohan Nair, a representative for the Indian nurses whose contracts were not renewed by Al Mafraq. rruiz@thenational.ae