By Stacy Carmichael-James
In a meeting that got off to a late start, officials from the Public Health Ministry and the Department of Public Service, along with Minister Volda Lawrence addressed the concerns of doctors, who were peeved because they were not given any formal correspondence that a decision was taken to transition contracted employees to the Public Service permanent employee’s scheme.
In the name of transparency, the officials gave the doctors the opportunity to voice their concerns and seek clarification regarding the new set up.
The resounding call was for better filtering of information for a subject as sensitive and important to the well-being of the doctors. Many of the doctors were given the impression that their contracts would automatically end and they would be switched over to the permanent public service employment package, which also includes a pension scheme. This was refuted by the officials who made it clear that Government will honor its contractual obligations and only if the contracted doctors seek to continue after their terms would have expired would they be switched over to permanent employee status under the public service terms and conditions. Currently, contracted doctors are not mandated to sign onto the pension scheme.
Dr. Adonia Benjamin told the officials ” I felt we were treated like a bunch of nameless, faceless people…and each person here represents a family tree…and I think some amount of respect …first of all as human beings should have been extended to us.” His colleague, who introduced himself as Dr. Brittion questioned; ” Why was there rumors of a deadline for this process to happen?”
However, this was also refuted by Permanent Secretary of the Department of Public Service, Reginald Brotherson, who availed himself to most of the questioning. He noted that ” It was not rumored…circulars were issued, the latest circular that was issued was the 7th of February, 2017 granted as I said earlier in the case of Public Health, the time period may be too short and these are things we would be looking at.”
Another doctor in response said, ” I heard about this transition and until now I haven’t read a circular, all of the information concerning this was by ‘word of mouth’ from colleagues and when you transfer information in that (manner) it changes.”
Minister Lawrence told those gathered that in the interest of time another meeting would be held to further address their grievances. She requested that the names, telephone numbers and email addresses of the doctors be collected so that details of the new arrangement could be sent to them so that they can get a clearer idea of what the pension scheme entails.
Rushing off to another engagement the Public Health Minister expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of proper communication, deeming it a disservice to the medical doctors. ” I will have a meeting with the PPO and the heads to ascertain how can you not share information of such important nature which affects people’s lives? I mean it’s unacceptable and so as the minister, the buck stops with me,” said Lawrence.
The minister believes that there has been a breakthrough following the meeting since the officials were able to quell the rumors. She said now that the air has been cleared about how the switch over will take place, the next step is to educate the doctors on the public service structure.
Minister Lawrence gave her assurance that by the end of this month the next conversation would be held with the doctors, who would be able to send all concerns and additional questions to the PS of the Department of Public Service prior to the engagement.
Other issues raised by the doctors included a raise in their ‘on call’ allowance which is just $1800 for 16 hours. It was clarified too that gratuity, which is payable every six months for the contracted employees would not be issued under the fixed plan.
This means that the doctors would be earning less, but according to the Ministry, steps are being taken to address the benefits and emoluments at the Parliamentary level.
According to a source, who reached out to the News Room $600,000 in gratuity will be removed from the doctors’ benefits with this pension plan that the Government is seeking to introduce.