The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority, KHMHA, Workers Union staged a walkout a little after three o’clock this afternoon in front of the main entrance of the hospital. The protest is over their pension program; or in this case, a lack thereof. The administration of the KHMHA notified the workers that they a pension since they are not defined as public officers. Lidia Blake, President of the union explained what spurred them to take this action.
Lidia Blake – President of KHMHA Workers Union: “We were waiting for a response and the response came in the form of a memo so we went on our own, at the same time we were getting our bargaining rights on June 11th so we went a step forward and we said okay is there five legal opinions, lets get KHMH Workers Union a legal opinion and then we meet again and table it to see where all the legal opinions will take us. Furthermore, we said we would do our own consultations to see if we as the KHMH Workers Union can go to the court to get a declaration as to say who are we? Are we public servants? Or are we servants of the public, are we deserving of a pension or are we not? We just want clarification, we do the work, we do the work on a daily basis.
Romilio Castaneda – Secretary, KHMH Workers UNION: “When the memorandum was issued by the CEO, we responded to that and part of our investigation revealed not only does the KHMH Act provides for something else so that the staff can go home with pension scheme, what that does is, it does not provide for a replacement of what is already provided for in the KHMH Act which makes reference to the Pensions Act so if there should be a contributory, keep in mind that the KHMH Act makes reference to a noncontributory pension from the Government. What it does at the same time, it gives a provision for a supplemental pension which is contributory but does not give the provision for it to replace what is provided for in the KHMH Act and the Pensions Act so hence the reason why when the memo came out we had to make clarifications on that. She was saying okay we are only getting our pension through the provident fund and that is not correct.”
This protest is the first step that the union is taking to address their plight. According to Andrew Baird, Vice President of the union, they are hoping that the KHMH authority would meet with them to discuss the matter. Until then, however, they are seeking legal advice.
Andrew Baird – Vice President of KHMHA Workers Union: “The staff along with management was under the impression that we are not pensionable and in line with the Karl Heusner Act which says that the Administrators may start a providence fund and a pension scheme, the provident fund came on board in 2017 and it is ongoing, no problem. Nevertheless, because of another legal opinion after 2017 that the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital has had that states that we were pensionable then that is where we had the limbo so to speak that if we are pensionable then the staff wants to pay for a provident fund if they are pensionable and that was when the administration said hold on I need to decide because we ourselves cannot afford both of them. Like the President rightly said until late May they came back to us and said oh we have another legal opinion and the legal opinion this time says that you are not pensionable and they decided to send out a memorandum to the staff saying that you are not pensionable so every time they get a new legal opinion they change the goal post on us. As we speak we have people who have reached that fifteen years and are retiring that are entitled to pension and gratuity in accordance with the laws of Belize and because of that they cannot get their pension because Karl Huesner is saying to them that they are not pensionable. As a a matter of fact let me go a little bit further, as a matter of fact there are a couple of staff members whom Karl Huesner have already started to pay pension and gratuity because Karl Huesner was of the belief that these people were entitled to a pension and abruptly in June stopped paying these people their pension and even went further and I think wrote a letter to them and said listen you can keep what you have already been paid, we have no interest to recover that back but we have to stop your pension. We do not want any more opinions, we are seeking for clarification or direction from the court to decide whether or not we fall under pensionable public servants or servants of the public.”
Love News understands that the KHMH Workers Union presently has a Provident Fund that they are paying three percent of their salary into while the hospital pays four percent. If placed on pension, the fund would wind down and be distributed to the contributors; that is what they are proposing to happen.