Highlights — 30 May 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Industrial action threatened over dispute between pharmacists and Ministry of Health

PSU adamant that GOB needs to address dispute within 21 days

Union sources told Amandala this week that pharmacists, who are members of the Public Service Union (PSU), have indicated that they are ready for industrial action if Minister of Labour Godwin Hulse does not respond favorably to their letter asking him to urgently address their dispute with the Ministry of Health, principally over the hiring of Danini Contreras as Director of the Drug Inspectorate.

“If the Minister’s response is not favorable, members have told us from the inception that they are ready to go to the next level – meaning industrial action,” PSU president Marvin Blades told Amandala today.

Blades told us that they had already written Hon. Hulse, on the matter, and they were told that no dispute exists between workers and employers, within the ambit of the law, which could be settled under the Settlement of Disputes in Essential Service Act, Chapter 298 of the Laws of Belize.

Blades said that since receiving that notification from Labour, they have written a two-page letter, hand-delivered today, Thursday, setting out in further detail exactly what the union’s case is.

Hulse told Amandala subsequently that he had received the first letter, which was sent over to Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams for his attention. Hulse said that they are also taking advice from the Solicitor General, and they are hoping to have that response from the Sol-Gen by tomorrow, Friday, May 30.

Blades said that the Minister of Labor has 21 days to address the issue, perhaps by referring it to mediation or tribunal, but if the matter is not satisfactorily addressed, the union reserves the right to go to industrial action, which could mean a strike, lock out, or sick out.

Blades said that the pharmacists, who provide an essential service, wanted to be sure that they can’t resolve the dispute before considering industrial action.

What does the PSU now expect, having sent this second letter over to Minister Hulse? Blades said that they expect that he will step in as the neutral party – even though he represents Government – and that he will mediate between government and the union, representing the Pharmacists Association of Belize.

Blades said that a major bone of contention is the hiring of Contreras, daughter of Minister Erwin Contreras, straight out of university, on pay scale 18, when the most experienced pharmacist, the Chief Pharmacist, who has been with the ministry for 17 years, is still on pay scale 16.

Blades contends that the vacancy was not publicized so that qualified pharmacists, especially those already in the service, could have a chance to apply.

The PSU’s Industrial Relations Officer, Ray Davis, has told Amandala: “I can say that moving forward, what is now necessary is for us to clear away all the issues with our lodging of the dispute so that it clears the way for industrial action; either that, or the Labour Department finds a way to get this whole thing resolved. They have the mechanism within which they can get that done.”

Davis said that the Contreras hiring violates the terms of employment of the other staff, because she has been put in a position where she could give directives to others who should be her senior, although she has no work experience in the field.

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