The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) yesterday condemned what it termed the illegal dismissal of the Georgetown Public Hospital’s Director of Nursing Services, Collene Hicks by the hospital’s CEO Michael Khan.
At a press conference held at their Regent Street headquarters, Principal Industrial Relations Officer, Patricia Went asserted that the actions of the Chief Executive Officer on the matter are in breach of Hicks’ “contract, fundamental rights and not consistent with Industrial Relations Principles and Practices.” Went added that as a result of Management’s “failure to follow due process the actions of the CEO/HRM are Null and Void.”
As a consequence the GPSU has called for the immediate withdrawal of the letter sent to Hicks dated June 15, 2015.
On Wednesday dozens of nurses left their patients unattended at the Georgetown Public Hospital to protest what they say was the “wrongful” dismissal of Hicks. The nurses stood outside of the hospital for two hours, holding up placards and calling for Khan’s removal as the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer. The protest which began after the nurses and other health care workers got the news that Hicks was terminated with immediate effect by Khan continued on Thursday.
Khan told Stabroek News on Wednesday that Hicks was not fired as was rumoured throughout the hospital. He stated that she was on a probationary period at the end of which the hospital decided to terminate her service.
However the union contends that the contract which was entered into on 7th April, 2015 does not provide for a probationary period. The Terms of Engagement approved by the Corporation engaged Hicks for employment “for three (3) years continuous resident service commencing from March 16, 2015 which period, it was stated may be extended.”
A copy of the contract provided by GPSU does not contain any direct clauses pertaining to a probationary period. It does however list as cause for dismissal a failure to comply with any order (among others).
Speaking to Stabroek News, Khan explained “She wasn’t fired. I won’t consider that firing,” adding that Hicks had not yet collected her letter of termination. He explained that she was terminated for gross insubordination. The termination followed a memo requesting that Hicks state why disciplinary action should not be taken against her for failing to respond to a letter from Khan. Hicks was supposed to give a response in 48 hours but “fifteen days has passed and she still hasn’t responded to me. It’s gross insubordination,” he said.
Stabroek News learned that Khan had sent Hicks a letter pertaining to several issues that needed to be addressed, chief among these were several staffing decisions including the relocation of nurses in various departments such as the Accident and Emergency Department without consulting or in some cases informing the CEO and board. After Hicks refused to comply with his instructions, the memo was sent to her.
The letter terminating Hicks’ services does not however mention any of this. It says only that “contract of employment in the position of Director, Nursing services…has concluded on 15th, June 2015”.
The contract names the date of its conclusion/expiration as 15thMarch, 2018.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Public Health, George Norton, responding to these developments in an invited comment, said that while the GPHC operates within the purview of his ministry, it is an entity that runs itself. “In relation to that matter at this time I can only repeat what the CEO has said, if what he says is not true then I have been misled”, Norton said.
According to Norton he was told by Khan the same information that was provided to the media which is Hicks “was on probation and was terminated”. Having not seen the contract he could not comment on whether it provides for a probationary period.
Norton bemoaned the fact that previous media reports misrepresented his position on the matter as being supportive of one party. He explained that he has taken no position on this matter as the running of the GPHC is within the purview of the Board of Directors. Khan as the Chief Executive Officer has the right to hire and fire staff within the ambit of the law.
At the press conference yesterday, the GPSU called for any further deliberation on the matters to be addressed with the union since it has become a grievance which should be handled through the grievance procedure and not with the employee.
The union charged that it is “against Industrial Relations Procedure for the CEO to be the accuser and the judge.”
It noted that “it would appear to some extent that the Honourable Minister of Public Health was misled on the entire matter.”
The minister has expressed his willingness to be present at any arbitration between the union and GPHC noting that any such activity would most likely also include the Ministry of Labour.