By Elesha George
Hospital workers who are owed millions in risk allowance are keeping a close eye on the government, after it made a promise to resume paying them at the end of this month.
The government has decided to resume risk payments to staff at the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) who they owe a total of $3.7 million.
Dozens of employees protested outside the hospital on Monday demanding answers.
Yesterday morning, staff gathered inside the hospital’s auditorium to hear how the government plans to resolve the risk allowance payments owed to them for about a decade.
They have agreed to pay $250,000 every month until the monies owed are paid out in alphabetical order.
Janella Evanson, the General Secretary of the union which represents the workers – Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA) – said 267 of the 391 workers are currently owed risk allowance.
“It was agreed that the government would be sending $250,000 at the end of each month, starting at the end of April, and the staff will be paid monthly,” she informed Observer.
The government also gave an undertaking to inform the staff if ever it is unable to continue making payments at any point.
However, staff members, some of whom are owed up to $40,000, said they will not accept excuses.
Evanson said the ABPSA’s position is that they will not take the government’s inability to pay lightly and they will “keep government on their feet to pay staff their risk allowance”.
Some staff members have also been told that they are not entitled to the monthly $1,000 Covid compensation that nurses and other staff members get, although they work closely with Covid-19 patients.
At Wednesday’s meeting, one worker claimed that he contracted the virus while working at the hospital although he isn’t entitled to receive the allowance.
According to a Cabinet decision, staff who do not deal directly with patients are not entitled to the Covid-19 allowance (which will only be paid for one year from March 2020), particularly as the administration remains challenged fiscally.
The General Secretary says the decision affects rehab and dialysis workers as well as receptionists.
In the event that these people are exposed to Covid patients, Evanson said the hospital’s management will assess the situation and make the adjustments accordingly.
Meanwhile, the separation of workers who receive payment has apparently affected staff morale. Some workers believe they are only recognised as being essential workers when work is required, but not when compensation is due.
President of the ABPSA, Joan Peters said that isn’t the feeling that most workers have, but a prejudice does exist based on the class of workers.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s across the board, but people tend to want to look down on workers and think that because you might not be directly involved with patients, you are not essential, but I don’t subscribe to that because every person that works in a healthcare institution is an essential worker,” she insisted.
The workers say they will continue industrial action if the government defaults on the payments.