ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Chanting, “We want closure. Right now,” protesting members of the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS) took their demands to the offices of both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour yesterday as they engaged in the second day of industrial action.
Seventy plus placard-bearing line staff and supervisory/confidential workers marched in the heat of the mid morning sun in an effort to force the outgoing Board of Control to sign off on the recommendation for job reclassification, which should result in salary increases across the board.
General Secretary of the Antigua Trades & Labour Union (AT&LU), Alrick Daniel, who led the march throughout St John’s, said the workers are not satisfied that the board, which will be dismantled on May 5, has treated the 2012-2014 Collective Agreement negotiation as a priority.
“We are still in search of an answer from the MBS and nobody’s saying anything up to now, so we decided to take our action to the streets. We are resolute in the fact that we will continue our action until we can get some sort of response from the Medical Benefit Scheme’s Board,” Daniel said.
In an April 14, 2014, letter to the chairperson of the board, Jo-Anne Lovell, the union said the workers were uneasy because the existing board was expected to sign off on the recommendations, which have been long overdue.
The letter stated that during a negotiation meeting three months ago, the union was informed that the board was in possession of the completed document to be approved.
“It has been over a year (since the start of negotiations), and we are yet to see the results of this undertaking. The workers have waited with much anticipation to see the reclassification become a reality, however, with the tenure of the Board approaching its end, there is uneasiness among the staff due to the uncertainty,” the union wrote.
Daniel explained that job reclassification for the workers now staging industrial action was embodied in the union’s original proposal, but the union put this on hold after the MBS Board indicated it wanted to conduct a similar exercise for the whole company.
The protesters, including pharmacists, forced the closure of all satellite pharmacies except for the main facility at Nevis Street.
Daniel said the union feels insulted with the board’s handling of the matter, adding that the workers will continue to remain off the job until something definitive from the board is forthcoming.