Headline — 21 July 2015 — by Adele Ramos
KHMH workers end go-slow as Cabinet ministers meet staff and board reps

BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 20, 2015–During a meeting held at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) this evening with a four-man team from Cabinet, board members of the hospital and staff reps, hospital workers who have been on an indefinite go-slow since Friday, with the cancellation of all outpatient elective services and surgeries over demands for a salary increase, have finally agreed to suspend their protest action.

The workers were asked on Friday to stop their protest action in good faith because they were perceived to be taking action before the salary negotiation had even started. After consulting with staff members today, they announced their decision to call off their action.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the meeting today. It was very productive in terms of information and in terms of the issues being vented… There were about 30 people present in the meeting. For that amount of people, I think we made great strides,” said KHMH chair, Chandra Nisbet-Cansino, who also attended the meeting.

Nisbet-Cansino confirmed to our newspaper that following the meeting held today with all parties, workers have agreed to lift the protest action initiated last Friday.

She said that they have agreed not to release too many details on the discussion until they are further along in the negotiating process, which will ensue after a smaller sub-group is established. That sub-group, we were told, will establish timelines for action, but the hope is that the issues put on the table would be resolved within a couple months, the chair said.

Staff representatives who have been lobbying on behalf of KHMH workers include Dr. John Sosa, Adrian Cardinez, Adelita Zaiden and Marisol Melado. Also included in today’s meeting were Dr. Peter Allen, the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Health; Dr. Adrian Coye, KHMH CEO; as well as Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security; Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports; Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health; and Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development, NEMO and Immigration and Nationality.

Nisbet said that the ministers undertook to provide the support necessary to move matters forward.

She also confirmed that the KHMH staff is in the process of forming the Karl Heusner Workers Union, and their priority is addressing the issue of the salary increase.

President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), Marvin Mora, told the press today that they are always advocating trade unionism, especially in areas of essential services, and it is important that the KHMH workers are represented.

Of the nearly 600 KHMH workers, roughly 100 are already dues-paying members of the Public Service Union (PSU). It has been said that the PSU consciously decided to exclude the workers of the KHMH from the pool of those who would benefit from the salary adjustment, because it would have meant less money for other public officers.

A PSU representative told us this evening that while the workers of statutory bodies were not factored into last year’s salary adjustment, on the premise that statutory body staff are under a different wage regime, the PSU had passed a resolution this year supporting their inclusion in this year’s adjustment. However, the rep said that when the matter was put on the table, a Ministry of Finance official objected and insisted that the same formula used last year was to continue to apply.

Whereas the various public hospitals are fully financed by the Government of Belize, the KHMH survives on an annual subvention, apart from funds it raises through services provided to the public.

During the ensuing talks, the question of the KHMH’s status as an autonomous institution, as well as whether the statutory body model is really working for the institution, is likely to be explored. Of note is that the KHMH cannot deny treatment to members of the public even if they cannot pay, and public officers pay only $2 a day for hospital charges, regardless of the purpose for seeking medical attention there.

Unlike other statutory bodies, the KHMH does not have a guaranteed revenue stream.

We are informed by the Ministry of Finance that the annual subvention which the Government pays to KHMH, via a grant to the Ministry of Health, was increased from $22.4 million for the last fiscal year, 2014/2015, to $23.2 million for the current fiscal year, 2015/16.

Amandala understands that after the first request was put forward by KHMH workers for a salary increase last year —made when a 6% salary adjustment for teachers and public officers was announced—the Government contended that the KHMH workers could not be included in the deal because they work for a statutory body.

However, the Government, we are told, later provided an additional allocation to the KHMH of roughly $400,000, which was paid as a staff bonus last year. The new allocation, though, was not enough to match the salary demand by workers.

Deputy Financial Secretary, Marion Palacio, told Amandala today that teachers and public officers are due to receive their paychecks reflecting the 8% salary adjustment retroactive to April 1, 2015, at the end of the month.

The third and final installment of the salary adjustment for teachers and public officers is due next year.

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