BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 16, 2015–After 7:00 tonight, our newspaper received a press release and short notice warning that effective tomorrow, Friday, July 17, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) will cancel all outpatient elective services and surgeries referred to the hospital, and only referral services and specialties that are not available at the district hospitals will be accepted—a protest by workers to solidify their demand for a cumulative 14% salary adjustment.
Amandala was unable to reach Dr. Peter Allen, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health, on the announcement—triggered by the discontent felt by KHMH staff over a decision by Central Government, two years in a row, to reject their demand for a salary increase comparable to that which has been granted to teachers and public officers, represented under the umbrella of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, who have been granted a 6% increase in 2014 and 8% in 2015.
The KHMH is a statutory body, and Central Government had taken the position that no employees of any statutory body would receive the automatic salary increase approved for teachers and public officers.
Dr. Adrian Coye, KHMH CEO, was briefly available to us via phone tonight, although he was terse in his response, informing us that he wanted to get to bed.
When we asked him about the veracity of the notice, which did not come to us on the KHMH’s letterhead, Coye said, “…. if that is what the notice is saying, that is what it is.”
Regarding the salary dispute, Coye told us that, “This is something that is ongoing… and we have assurance that patients will all be taken care of [and] emergency services will not be discontinued.”
The initial demand by KHMH workers to be included in the 6% salary adjustment granted to teachers and public officers in 2014 came to the fore just before paychecks were issued last July.
At the time, KHMH chair, Chandra Nisbet-Cansino, told journalists that it was the unions that had asked that KHMH workers—numbering about 600—be excluded from the pool of workers who will receive the increase.
Cansino had informed that the KHMH board had taken up the initiative to write the Ministry of Finance on the matter and they were awaiting a reply.
Tonight, we asked Coye if he was aware of what the final word from the ministry was, but he told us that he has no recollection of the comments.
“Going into tomorrow, there is so much more to discuss,” Coye said.
Nisbet-Cansino had told the press that the KHMH gets a significant subvention from the Ministry of Finance, which goes primarily to staffing and paying its wage bill.
A Ministry of Health official told us today that the majority of KHMH staff work directly under the KHMH board, although there are some who are public officers.
The press release issued tonight informed that on Tuesday, July 14, “for the first time in the history, representatives of the Board of Governors from the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority (KHMHA) met with members of Cabinet of the Government of Belize to discuss issues pertaining to the salary increases, pensions and benefits due to the employees of the national referral hospital.”
Not only was the issue of the pay raise put on the table, but also other concerns such as the funding of the newly built Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
The release later said that, “Although the Government of Belize was sympathetic about the situations at the KHMHA, the general consensus was that the employees of the KHMHA will not receive the past nor current salary increases, since the employees of the national referral hospital are not considered public officers, due to the fact that the Government views the KHMHA as a statutory body.”
The release added that as a consequence, the KHMH staff has set up a task force whose objective would be (1) to form a KHMHA workers’ union and (2) to negotiate on behalf of the KHMHA employees with the Board of Governors and/or Government until the KHMHA workers’ union is fully established and recognized. They reiterate their demand for a salary increase with retroactive effect.