MSJMC Bill wording corrected and passed in the Lower House

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The Mount St. John’s Medical Centre (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was passed in the Lower House late yesterday after changes were made to certain words that created widespread concern among nurses about being made redundant, causing them to protest outside of Parliament prior to the debate.
The wording changes relate to what was outlined in the draft legislation which stated, “Notwithstanding subsections (1) through (6), the secondment of all public officers to the service of the Board pursuant to subsection (1) shall come to an end on the 31st day of May, 2018. (8) Every public officer currently seconded to the service of the Board shall have the option to apply to the Board for employment.”
The Health Minister, Molwyn Joseph, was at pains to reassure hospital staff that they had nothing to worry about, as he blamed the drafters of the Bill for the incorrect wording which indicated the workers had to reapply for their positions.
There were also questions about the 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 chooses not to be so absorbed, will face redundancy.”
The unions had earlier asked whether any assessment/probe had been done to determine what the skill sets were and whether they could fit or not fit elsewhere.
Hospital staff gathered outside Parliament in a spirited protest yesterday. They met members of the Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), activist group The Movement, and Barbudans who were alsodemonstrating their displeasure about government’s plan to repeal the Barbuda Land Act.
Both Bills were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.
The protesting healthcare workers eventually entered Parliament to hear Joseph’s presentation.
Speaking specifically to the component of the Bill which would require the public officers to re-apply to the MSJMC Board, the minister noted that the language will be corrected.
“There will be an automatic exercise, where you will move from the Civil Service into the management of the Statutory Corporation. So, the whole idea and the propaganda that you are going to lose your job was never a part of the text of this Bill.
“There is an automatic absorption of the workers in the Mount St. John’s organisation”, Joseph said.
The health minister further stated that a public officer who desires to remain in the service of the government, after the Board is set up, shall indicate so in writing to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, no later than 30 days after the end of the secondment.
Additionally, a person who is employed by the board at the end of the secondment period shall cease to be a public officer from the date being employed by the board and the person’s pension will be preserved until retirement.
“No loss of benefits.” Joseph stressed as he explained that at that level of the Parliamentary process “if a Bill is published and then we come here, and if we believe it can be improved we do likewise – and this, Mr Speaker, was an issue of language”.
As it relates to the issue of  nurses receiving a lower retirement pension in the old Act, Joseph said the law is now being amended for the workers to receive a higher pension.
“There is nothing that has been said here that is not in the interest of nurses as well as the other workers at MSJMC,” the minister concluded.
The payment will be higher as the law seeks to include in the pension, the duty allowance which was not calculated as part of pension in the past for those who would have already retired under the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre Act, 2009.
The draft states, “The duty allowance paid at the time of the passing of this Act by the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre to public officers seconded to the service of the Board shall be converted to a pensionable benefit for the purpose of calculating the pension entitlement of the seconded public officers pursuant to the applicable Pension law.”
The changes in the Bill will directly affect public officers, who were seconded from Holberton Hospital to the MSJMC in 2009 and will also complete the transitioning of the hospital to the management of a Board.
However, the workers along with their unions, the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association (ABNA) and the Antigua and Barbuda Public Service Association (ABPSA) were specifically concerned about a particular provision in the amendment which speaks to making redundant the positions of workers who are not absorbed by the MJSMC Board.
The unions also argued that they were not consulted about the process before the Bill was presented to parliament.
Minister Joseph however rejected the latter claim when he spoke in Parliament yesterday.
“I have met with delegations of nurses from Mount St. John’s. I have spoken personally to the president. I have spoken personally to the principal nursing officer who requested of me to invite the senior people in the ministry of health and representatives from Mount St. John’s to sit in my office to address this problem. Even the drafting of the legislation, there were four meetings, four consultations on the drafting of the legislation before the draft was put together and brought here,” he said.
To show their dissatisfaction, the healthcare workers assembled at the hospital shortly after 8:30 a.m. yesterday, they then led a march to the Parliament Building on Queen Elizabeth Highway with placards, while chatting “no re-application, no redundancy”.
A skeleton staff was left to man the operations at the hospital. Calls to hospital officials to determine what mechanisms were put in place, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, president of the Nurses Association, Karen Josiah said her members are pleased with yesterday’s outcome. She also expressed gratitude to the ABPSA for joining forces with the nurses.
A total of 535 workers are employed at the hospital, and 189 of that number were seconded from Holberton.
The Bill now has to go before the Senate for debate.

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