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Gov't pharmacists threatening industrial action

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, April 07, 2014    

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THERE is a threat of industrial action at government phar-macies this morning, as the union representing the pharmacists and pharmacy technicians — the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) -- say they are restive over the provisions of a new system to be implemented today.

According to BITU spokesman, Elvis Lennon, the union has written to both Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson and Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and Planning Horace Dalley, appealing for their intervention to prevent a crisis in the health facilities.

The new system will see public sector pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, who have been transferred from the administration of the regional health authorities, falling under the National Health Fund (NHF).

The BITU said that, in principle, it is not opposed to the changes, but that there are several conditions of employment which it repeatedly raised with the NHF, but which have not been addressed. These include one-year contracts for the pharmacists previously permanently employed; a proposed six-month probation period; new salary scales; new arrangements under which a number of senior, experienced pharmacists are to be placed at entry level positions; and pharmacists being prohibited from doing private work in their free time.

The BITU said it is hoping that the ministers will help to have the issues resolved, to avoid any disruption.

The Ministry of Health has been engaged in plans to reform the system under which it employs its pharmacists since 2011.This was confirmed by its chief financial officer, Michael Maragh, who told the House of Representatives' Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in April, 2012, that it had become necessary, due to a persistent shortage of pharmacists in the public sector.

"We are unable to retain them, and we are unable to attract those who are on the outside. So, we are in the process of making the National Health Fund an integral part of the process," he told the committee.

Although over 700 pharmacists were registered in Jamaica, up to April 2012, of the 150 posts for registered pharmacists in the sector, only about 50 were filled.

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