Transition to public service not mandatory, doctors told

Doctors working in the public sector will be allowed to complete their current contracts before they are transitioned to the fixed establishment as permanent, pensionable government workers, and transition is not mandatory, it remains a choice that each individual doctor can make.

“Your contract to serve the people of Guyana will not be annulled. Your contract is a legal document and the Government of Guyana respects that legal document. We are not annulling any contract…,” Reginald Brotherson, Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Department of the Ministry of Presidency told the doctors yesterday.

The mostly Cuban-trained doctors gathered at the National Cultural Centre at 9 am yesterday for a meeting with Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence and officials from the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of the Presidency. The meeting was called in response to public complaints made by doctors over employment changes, which had been communicated to them. They wanted explanations on the terms and conditions governing the proposed transition of doctors from contracts to the fixed establishment.

A section of the doctors at yesterday’s meeting. (Photo by Keno George)

After waiting for more than an hour for the minister, the doctors expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that they were never engaged on the issue before the policy was enacted. They were instead informed via circular that they were required to submit their certificates to the Public Service Commis-sion so that they could be transitioned to the fixed establishment.

Some doctors told the gathering that they had not even seen the circular and instead were told via the rumour mill that their contracts were being annulled and they would be required to switch to the fixed establishment.

“Please explain to us what this switch is? How it will happen and what it means for us financially and otherwise? Will we lose our gratuity? Do we have to switch? We are not policy makers. Please explain it to us in layman terms,” Dr Patrick Lindo asked the head table.

In response, Brotherson explained that the doctor’s contract and its attached benefits will continue to be applicable until its expiration at which point doctors will be asked to apply to the public service for one of the duly advertised positions.

But while Brotherson was able to clearly respond to this query, neither he nor the other members of the head table, including Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health Collette Adams, were unable to give the doctors a clear idea of what benefits await them on the fixed establishment.

Asked to present the gathering with the facts related to the pension plan which will replace their gratuity, Lawrence, Brotherson, Adams and Secretary to the Public Service Commission (PSC) Marvalyn Stephens were all unable to answer.

Instead they advised the hundreds of doctors gathered to provide ministry staff with their contact information so that a copy of the Pension Act could be disseminated after which another public meeting would be arranged to discuss its contents.

However, Stephens was able to explain that once the doctors have transitioned to the public service they would be treated like any other new entrant, subject to a probationary period of employment and required to work for one year before being eligible for leave.

Additionally, doctors were informed that these new employment options were not available to those employed at the George-town Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) as employees of that institution are not considered part of the public service.

As the doctors continued to attempt to seek clarification about how the fixed establishment would differ from the rights granted to them under their present employment, the Principal Personnel Officer of the Ministry of Presidency declared: “The last government was in violation of the constitution,” explaining that public sector employment is done by the PSC not the government ministries.

“This has not been done over the years. We are taking back the mandate given to government to do contractual employment for General Service Bands 1 and 2. None of the contracts here have been sanction by the PSC. We are taking back the constitutional mandate abused by previous government which took a carte blanche and implemented a parallel public service to the detriment of many workers,” he passionately declared.

The doctors are being asked to transition to the fixed establishment as part of the APNU+AFC government’s drive to eliminate the “parallel public service” which developed as a result of the previous administration employment of a large number of contracted workers.

In 2016 Minister of State Joseph Harmon had told Parliament that over the next five years, government will be working to integrate contract workers into the traditional public service.

“What we have said is that we will gradually merge all of these persons who are on contract into the traditional public service. We have already entered into conversations with the Public Service Commission… Addition-ally, all those persons under age 45, we will give them an opportunity to get into the traditional public service,” Harmon had said in response to questions raised by opposition parliamentarians during the consideration of the 2016 budgetary estimates for the Ministry of the Presidency.

When in opposition, the constituents of the present government had repeatedly condemned the heavy use of contracted workers and went so far as to vow to “strip and dismantle” the contract system for state employees.

Present Attorney-General Basil Williams was reported by Stabroek News as making this declaration in 2013. This action was expected to stop the destruction of security of tenure and undermining of the unions.

Then shadow Minister of Finance Carl Greenidge was reported as saying at the time that at the Office of the President, along with other public service institutions, it had become the norm for persons to be hired on a contractual basis rather than the conventional way of making them full-fledged staff. According to Greenidge, this non-conventional way of hiring employees took away security of tenure and enabled employers to easily terminate anyone who failed to fall in line with the government’s status quo, especially since contracted workers were not represented by unions. Furthermore, he said, this set up had been facilitated by the government’s interference in the functioning of the PSC, the Appellate Tribunal and the Police Service Commission.

Greenidge opined that the combined effects of these actions had led to the demoralisation of the public service and argued that by extension it caused the many inefficiencies experienced in Guyana.

A release from the Guyana Medical Association earlier this month had expressed concern about the breakdown in communication between the government and the young doctors.

According to the statement, the doctors informed the association that a recent ultimate declared by the government, abolished the five-year contract for service as bonded employees of the government causing doctors to lose their status as contract employees, along with contractual benefits.

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