Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Labour ministry intervenes in med techs' dispute
T K WHYTE, Observer staff reporter
Friday, January 03, 2003


JUNOR... government will not sit idly by and allow the system to collapse

THE labour ministry is today expected to begin conciliatory talks with the Union of Technical Administrative and Supervisory Personnel (UTASP) and the health ministry to try and settle a wage dispute between the ministry and medical technologists.

The more than 85 government medical technologists islandwide stayed away from work yesterday, leaving the Blood Bank and hospitals without X-ray and other laboratory services.

Blood donor organiser at the Blood Bank, Carol Williams said yesterday there were few blood donors but the blood taken by nurses was still to be processed, which could negatively affect the distribution of blood.

"We have referred the matter to the Ministry of Labour which has called a meeting for tomorrow (today) morning in the interest of speeding up ongoing discussions around the issues involved, as well as returning order to the workplace islandwide as quickly as possible," Health Minister John Junor told the Observer.

Junor, who noted that medical technologists were part of the essential service, warned that government would not sit idly by and allow the system to collapse if the technologists do not return to work today. "We will take such action as is necessary tomorrow (today) if they don't come back (to work)," he warned.

But UTASP's chief union delegate, Lenford Bennett said yesterday that should government try to be hard, the union would respond likewise. "If they (government) try court action they will lose the services of the supervisors and we will be prepared to be locked up for rights. We need the matter to be addressed not tomorrow but to be addressed now. So we are hoping (that) something positive will come out of the meeting tomorrow (today)," he said.

Bennett, a chief medical technologist, said the strike was having the desired effect on hospitals as most workers who came out had returned home.

"The industrial action which was agreed on at a meeting last Tuesday is very effective. It affects labs and hospitals across the island as well as the Blood Bank," he said.

Bennett said the strike was called because of the reluctance of the ministry (of health) to compensate medical technologists for the anomalies created in 2001 by reclassification of the scientific officers who were employed with university degrees.

He said scientific officers received higher salary than medical technologists. Pointing out that the technologist's starting salary was $463,000 while a scientific officer started at $714,126, and argued that although technologists were without degrees they were the ones doing the work.

"There are times when the medical technologists supervise the scientific officer because they are not trained to be medical technologists, so the difference is not with the degree but there is a job difference," he said.

But the health ministry had made its position clear regarding the demands by the technologists for the present anomalies in salaries at the workplace to be ironed out "as a matter of urgency".

"The Ministry of Health is aware of the presence of five scientific officers at the National Public Health Laboratory now doing similar duties to those of the medical technologists.

"The matter was discussed with the Ministry of Finance and it was agreed that where persons now classified as scientific officers are performing the same duties as medical technologists, those positions are to be reclassified in the medical technology series, and that arrangements would be made for persons employed as scientific officers to be transferred to other government departments where vacancies exist," acting permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dr Majorie Holding Cobban told UTASP in a letter dated December 27, 2002.

"However, the staff has indicated that this cannot be done until they can be replaced with medical technologists as the laboratory is already short staffed. As soon as replacements are available, transfers will be discharged and effected. In the future scientific officers will be employed at the National Public Health Laboratory, only on condition that they do not perform the duties of medical technologists," the letter continued.

But Bennett said yesterday that the response was not good enough as the technologists must be paid equal salary. "We will stay on strike until they decide to pay us, that's our intention," he said.