“Until I see with my eyes what changes are made, I am not going to give a thumbs up at all,” said Joan Peters nurse and president of the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA).
The president was referring to the proposed changes made on Monday to the Mount St. John Medical Centre (Amendment) Bill 2018 designed to formalize the status of over 180 public workers who were seconded from Holberton Hospital to the MSJMC in 2009.
“Some changes have been made but we cannot speak directly [to those changes], because of course, you know that it is 11:30 last night that [the Bill] finished and I don’t think that the ministers themselves got an opportunity to read it before they got there today. So they too are still baffling with it.”
“This bill was meant to be a victimization bill if it had gone through in its original form.”
The original bill had been significantly revised by government drafters up until 11:30 pm the previous evening.
“We don’t have a problem with the secondment.” said nurse Peters, “We have a problem with the terms and conditions of our continued work. We don’t want to find out that our tenure is not protected.”
Section (9) referred to, “a person who exercises the option of applying to be employed by the Board shall cease to be a public officer from the date on which he becomes employed by the Board and any pension rights or retiring award to which he may be entitled shall be placed on hold from the date on which he ceases to be a Government employee until he attains the age of retirement under the Pensions Act (Cap. 311) or the Pensions (Non-Established Government Employees) Act (Cap. 310) as the case may be.”
“Why should I have to apply for the job that I was already duly employed for?,” asked nurse Peters.
Health Minister Molwyn Joseph, however, indicated that the bill was amended to make the application of workers to MSJMC an “automatic exercise”.
“You will move from the civil service into the management of the statutory corporation,” said Joseph
“There is an automatic absorption of the workers in the Mount St. John’s organization.”
The MSJMC workers also took a serious issue with the Bill’s explanatory memorandum which stated:
Section 29 of the principal Act contained the transition provisions. However, this section did not provide for the ending of the secondment nor for the status of public officers after the secondment would have ended. This is of vital importance because the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre is the only public hospital on the island and the skill set of most of the public officers cannot be reintegrated into any other area of the public service. In essence, when the secondment is ended, public officers who are not absorbed by the Board, or who choose not to be so absorbed, will face redundancy.
“That big word ‘redundancy’ is found nowhere in the Civil Service Act and regulations. It’s found nowhere in our Pension Act,” said Peters.
The new amendment means that their continued employment will be automatic.
“The whole idea that there would be redundancies was never a part of this bill,” Joseph told Lower House and went on to blame the drafters of the bill for the misunderstanding.
“He said that you would be automatically absorbed by MSJMC so in other words, you don’t have to apply,” recalled nurse Karen Josiah, president Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA).
Despite the changes made in Parliament on Monday, the MSJMC representative said that they would “reserve final judgment” until they view the final Bill for themselves.
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