Posted: Saturday, July 13, 2019. 1:20 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Members of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) Workers’ Union on Friday staged an impromptu walkout near the end of their workday, pushing hospital management to settle the issue of pensions for its employees through the courts.
There have been no less than five legal opinions issued down the years, but it boils down to this: the management has walked back its opinion of a few months ago that workers are pensionable by the Government, as KHMH is an autonomous institution run by a statutory body and holds separate status from the Government-run district hospitals and clinics. Hospital workers also contribute to what’s called a “provident fund”.
But according to Union president Lidia Alpuche Blake, the pension is no less than what her workers deserve. “Who are we? Are we public servants or are we servants of the public? Are we desirable of a pension or are we not? We just want clarification. We do the work on a daily basis. We have done our part trying to set up a provident fund that at least we have something in case it goes the other way that we are not entitled to pension. This is my personal view: If I am working in this country and I am paying taxes and I am toiling the soil every day, I am entitled to a pension. Who is going to pay? That is what we need to find out.”
Vice President Andrew Baird told reporters that the Union’s membership agreed to the walkout, which lasted half an hour and did not overly disrupt services. He called on the hospital management to either agree to take the matter to court or come back and negotiate with employees.
Secretary to the Union Romilio Castaneda explained that the KHMH Act which establishes the hospital authority refers to both its own pension scheme and a non-contributory pension from the Government, with the Provident Fund being supplementary. The Fund collects three percent of salaries and was established in 2017 and formalized by a memorandum of understanding with then-CEO Dr. Adrian Coye in 2018. But the hospital management has resisted calls to come back to the table since.
The Union, according to Baird, has made further plans but he would not discuss them in detail.
The hospital is covered under the Settlement of Disputes in the Essential Services Act, Cap. 298, Laws of Belize, which greatly restricts industrial action.
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