“We want to have something in writing” – Unions not pleased with gov’t on OKEU plans; health minister responds

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“We want to have something in writing” – Unions not pleased with gov’t on OKEU plans; health minister responds
Minister Mary Isaac
Staff associations and unions representing workers at Victoria Hospital were specially invited on a familiarisation tour of the Owen King EU Hospital on March 30, 2017.

The Saint Lucia Trade Union Federation (TUF) has said it has a simple request from the government: to be formally and actively involved and informed of the government’s plans to privatise the Owen King EU Hospital (OKEU), among other developments in the health sector.

The TUF comprises the Civil Service Association, the St Lucia Teachers’ Union, the SL Nurses Association, the Seamen and Waterfront General Workers Union, the St Lucia’s Farmers’ Association, Police Welfare Association, the St Lucia Fire Services Association and the Vieux Fort and General Workers Union.

On Monday, March 19, 2018, the TUF held a press conference to air its grouses, arguing that its members are being left out of the loop, but the following day Isaac told media operatives that the organisation is well aware of the government’s plans for OKEU and they have been involved in the “process”.

Isaac, a former president of the St. Lucia Civil Service Association, dismissed reports by the TUF that the government had failed to respond to their request/s for clarification on the fate of OKEU.

She emphasised: “This is not true. The letter was sent and it was sent last Thursday. The prime minister did not even see the letter until the Friday, and by Monday they were already having a press conference, so I believe that speaks volumes. The only one that I know about is that the prime minister received a letter. The letter was sent on Thursday and he did not see that letter but by Monday they were already having a press conference. I do not know that any other letter was received, how many were received, or if anybody else wrote. I am saying that the first letter that the prime minister received, the letter came last Thursday, and he did not see the letter until Friday, but by Monday, they were already having a press conference, so that says a lot to me.”

She added: “There is no process that the unions have been left out of. If they feel that they have been left out of … a process, they should state which process that they have been left out of, because as far as I know, there has not been any process that anybody has left any stakeholder out of.”

Prime Minister Allen Chastanet believes privitisation is the best option for the OKEU at this time, because it will ensure financial sustainability and more effective management.

But this reasoning is not enough. The TUF, speaking via lead members at a press conference last Monday, demanded more specific answers.

President of the St Lucia Nurses’ Association Alicia Baptiste said: “We as an association have an obligation to provide our members with information pertaining to their future within the healthcare system, which we do not have at this time. In the absence of information, there is room for speculation which makes our members at this time very anxious and rightfully so. As important stakeholders in healthcare we need to be part of the process and we call on the powers that be, to realise that the nurses are the backbone of healthcare. And so, our members need to know what is going on with regards to the OKEU Hospital.”

Civil Service Association (CSA) President Yvonne Edwin: “We CSA are concerned about the preservation of the pensionable status of any employee who may have been appointed before February 2003, who may be transferred to the OKEU, and the implications for any public officer appointed by the Public Service Commission. Such issues should have been dealt with seriously, because the decisions that we will have taken would have life-changing implications for the workers. We call on the Ministry of Health to immediately undertake a study to determine the number of persons who would be impacted and provide that information. We demand that the government consult the CSA on the plan, to facilitate the transition of workers to OKEU, and this must be done without delay. Members are concerned and we need to provide the necessary information to members of the public and to our workers. The government has in the past adopted a pattern of ignoring requests for information and we saw this happen with other entities such as the National Printery, the Tourist Board, upcoming Marketing Board, the St Lucia Fish Marketing Co-operation, the Post Office. These requests for information has been made and we are hoping that this is not a continuous pattern.”

The St Lucia Medical and Dental Association (SLMDA) President Dr. Alphonsus St Rose also contributed.

He said: “Our history as frontline advocates for improving the delivery of quality, accessible and affordable healthcare on behalf of our workers, our members and the public whom we serve, demands meaningful dialogue. We have a responsibility to act in good conscience on behalf of our members and the people of St Lucia, to ensure that they are guaranteed their right to equitable, quality, cost effective and accessible healthcare. SLMDA is therefore demanding our rightful seat at the table for dialogue and participation in the privatisation process of a public asset of which we are important operational stakeholders.

Dr. St. Rose said information from news pieces are not enough. He added: “We must have things documented. Nobody has been written to say any of these things, so how do we know there is any credibility to what is being said? We cannot put the livelihood of our members on that kind of platform of just maybe talk and that’s it. I mean people are free to change their minds on anything at any time. We want things documented. We want to have a memorandum of understanding or we want to have something in writing, on that we can now decide, this is a platform on which we can now move forward. We will allay the anxieties and the fears of our workers and our members but it cannot just be from a news clipping we are hearing this. These things are just not acceptable.”

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