Changes, changes and more changes are in the pipeline for the health sector here in Dominica and if implemented, health workers fear that they may be adversely impacted .
The Government of Dominica, through the National Health Commission, is in the process of enacting four new pieces of legislation, Medical Professions Bill, Nursing Bill, Pharmacy Bill and finally, the Dominica Hospitals Authority Bill which has been under much scrutiny by the Dominica Public Service Union (DPSU) and its members.
After a meeting with the Health Commission, the union met with health workers on the island and according to General Secretary of the DPSU Thomas Letang, “their overall feedback is that the bill, in the form it is being recommended, has a lot of negative implications for them and they have asked us to advise the Government to not rush this bill, because it’s very serious and we have to make sure that there is enough time to study and submit whatever recommendations we have.”
If enacted, the Authority, which will now be managed by a board of directors, will be responsible for the overall management and administration of such hospitals and other health facilities as “the Minister may, by Order, designate.”
Speaking to Dominica News Online (DNO), Letang stated that new or non-appointed persons within that field will now be placed on a three year contract which, he says, the members have indicated is not the way to improve efficiency and performance in the public service.
“So persons such as nurses, doctors, ward aids,domestic workers, pharmacists, lab technologists, whoever they are, coming into that line of work,they will never be able to go to the bank and negotiate a loan without being employed for no more than three years,” he said.
Letang contends that with the lack of private hospitals here on the island, if the employees’ contracts are not renewed after the three years, they will be forced to seek employment outside of Dominica “and what is going to happen to us is we are going to have people coming from other countries poorer than us and they are the ones who will be getting those jobs.”
For those who are currently appointed, benefits such as their study leave, sick leave, vacation leave, departmental leave, travelling allowance and security of tenure may be taken away – a possibility which public officers are not taking lightly.
Another worry of DPSU members is the possibility that union representation will be eliminated.
“Everyone employed at the hospital is currently represented by the union. In the act that is being presented, it makes absolutely no mention of union representation because at some point everybody at the hospital – after those who have resigned and retired- all we will have at the hospital are people under contract and there will be absolutely no need for union representation,” the General Secretary pointed out.
He added, “When the law takes effect, since those people will be on contract, it will be very difficult for us to get bargaining rights on their behalf because you would not be doing collective bargaining for them but it would be issued with individual contract[s] so the move, while it may not be intentional, can really see a riddance of union representation at the hospital.”
According to Letang, another fear of persons in the health sector if this bill is enacted, is the possibility of victimization.
“If you go to sleep but you know that for your contract to be renewed it depends on certain people, then you cannot open your mouth and say anything; you will constantly be in fear.”
He said the union is not opposed to any move that will ensure that there is increased performance in the public service, “because our position is at whether you are working in the private sector or in the public sector, there is always room for improvement, but when changes are being done at a cost to these people, people who are front line workers, people who have exposed themselves and put themselves at risk during COVID-19 and other illnesses and we are seeing that instead they are compensated for their efforts, the whole thing is going to change where they will be at a disadvantage, that definitely has to be of concern to us.”
Speaking on behalf of his members, Letang said that they have not been able to identify anything positive which can derive from this act, but if they do, they will share it with the general public.