Improving the Status of the Chemistry Workforce in the Philippines: A Perspective from the Board of Chemistry

This article is written by the Honorable Ma. Theresa Cayton, member of the Professional Regulatory Board of Chemistry. In this article, she offered insights on the challenges being faced by registered chemistry professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the perennial issues concerning them and the profession that are slowly being resolved.

Chemists and chemical technicians can be found working silently behind the scenes in various sectors of the country’s work force – in academe, in government, and in industry. More so in this pandemic, many of them are in the laboratories analyzing, synthesizing or elucidating structures of compounds or viruses such as COVID-19 and its emerging variants; in manufacturing plants ensuring the quality of alcohol and disinfectants; in pharmaceutical companies formulating and checking the quality of drugs used to treat diseases and infections or to strengthen our immune system; in food companies ensuring the quality of food and drinks to sustain our daily nutrition; and in agricultural plants ensuring that the seeds and fertilizers used by farmers for our food supply are of the highest standard. They help our fruit industry by analyzing exports such as mangoes and bananas, ensuring that pesticide residue levels are within the acceptable limits of importing countries. They are also present in environmental laboratories checking the quality of the water we drink, the soil we harvest our produce from, and the air we breathe. They are indispensable in all fire and explosion incidents as they analyze materials and investigate on the probable cause. They are in every drug case analyzing the seized drugs and serving as witnesses in each court proceeding against drug suspects. Quietly, the chemists are also present in every crime scene analyzing evidence and proving their analytical results in court. And there are many more chemists and chemical technicians out there who analyze and make sure that the products being sold in the market are of constantly good quality.

With the implementation of the Chemistry Profession Act in 2015 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations the year after, the health and safety, work environment, overall welfare of chemistry practitioners, the management of laboratory chemical waste, and protection of the environment were all vastly improved. This Act is the first professional regulatory law which incorporates hazard pay, health and safety of the professional, and environment protection as major requirements to obtain a Certificate of Authority to Operate (CATO), which all chemical laboratories are mandated to obtain to legally operate in the country.

Since 2017, almost 800 chemical laboratories have applied for CATO. The Professional Regulatory Board of Chemistry (BOC) has inspected 600 of these applicants. Of these, 360 are already fully compliant, resulting in a huge improvement in the leadership, organization, professional staffing, health and safety practices, waste management, environment protection, hazard pay, and other aspects of the practice of the chemistry profession. The rest of the laboratories are in different stages of compliance and ongoing improvements. That’s 600 laboratories which have vastly improved in the last four years, an accomplishment benefitting our chemistry work force which the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and the BOC are truly proud of!

Having a CATO translates to more than two-thousand registered chemists and registered chemical technicians who now have or will soon have hazard pay, ranging from PHP 2,400 per month to 30 percent of the base pay for government laboratories which worked on being aligned to the Magna Carta of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) at the advice of the BOC. In December 2020, a breakthrough was accomplished: DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña issued an administrative order directing all contract workers of the DOST and its affiliate agencies be given hazard pay citing the provisions of the Chemistry Profession Act. This administrative order will benefit the currently more than a hundred contractual chemistry professionals and future ones to be hired by DOST’s 16 regional laboratories and 5 attached agencies.

Other establishments which now provide hazard pay to their registered chemists and registered chemical technicians are: San Miguel Corporation, Universal Robina Corporation, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Manila Water, Laguna Lake Development Authority, Sugar Regulatory Administration, Department of Agriculture, Environment Management Bureau, and many more. However, minor hiccups remain. Some of the government laboratories, upon the initial inspection of the BOC, said that hazard pay is not possible to be given at all. Moreover, there are laboratories in the industry sector which claimed during inspection that hazard pay is already incorporated in the base pay of their registered chemistry professionals but were not able to show sufficient evidence. The BOC remains committed in resolving such issues.

The resulting upliftment and recognition of our chemists and chemical technicians is a much welcome result of the combined efforts of the PRC, BOC and the Integrated Chemists of the Philippines (ICP), which also gave support to the BOC during laboratory inspections in areas where no PRC regional office is available.

The journey is not yet finished as there are more chemical laboratories to inspect. But with ever encouraging results, the PRC, BOC, and the ICP are more devoted to improve more chemical laboratories, which should translate to helping more chemistry professionals!

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