Health Minister clears the air on Filipino nurses

By Loshaun Dixon/thestkittsnevisobserver.com

Minister of Health Eugene Hamilton has cleared the air on the subject of Filipino nurses hired by his ministry to work at the hospital and rejects rumours that they are being paid larger salaries than local nurses.

In an interview with The Observer, Hamilton confirmed that they have contracted 17 nurses from the Philippines and described them as “specialist nurses.”

“All of them are very well qualified,” the minister said.“Not only do they have a first degree they also have subsequent training they also have some years of experience behind them.”

Hamilton said it became necessary to hire additional support of nurses because the number of nurses that is currently employed by the government fall short in several key areas.

“They are so many disciplines that are attractive to our people other than nursing,” he said. “While it is true that people are going into nursing, the level of personnel needed to be boosted.”

He added that in order for someone to become a nurse in St. Kitts and Nevis they must at least past the local exams, the regional exams including as well as concluding what a mid-wifery.”

The Health Minister stated that the Filipino nurses are highly trained and qualified to do the job. He stated that they were on two year contracts and that maybe renewed at the end of the tenure.

“The Filipinos are here on a two year contract they are not here to be public servants in the true sense of the word,” Hamilton said. “They are not going to be eligible for pension and gratuity and at the end of the contract they could be gone, as well as they could be renewed.”

He rejected public claims that state the imported nurses were receiving larger salaries and significantly better benefits than the home-grown nurses.

“As a result of them being on contract they are not entitled to increments,” he said/ “When it comes to the ordinary people who are here nursing when they get engaged by the government they are appointed by the public service.”

He said that when one is appointed by the public service they are then placed into a particular salary scale in which they qualify.

“For example if you have a degree you get into a scale between K-33 and K-38 and each year once you are properly evaluated you get an increment once you deserve an increment,” Hamilton said. “That is not so for the Filipinos.”

The Health Minister added that the tenure of the local nurses and what is paid to them far exceeds what is paid to the Filipinos because that is just a short term measure.

“You cannot treat persons on contract and persons and persons on full time employment the same way, they are two different categories but they are not being paid anything higher.”

He however noted that the Filipinos contracts fall within the scale that local nurses are paid.

“They are nurses who are there with the requisite years of employment who are above the Filipinos contract and there will be those who are below but there is no real disparity.”

Hamilton also commented on reports of the $500 housing allowance being paid to the Filipino nurses stating that individuals who are sourced from abroad and are contracted by government are to be provided them with housing.

“That has been so since colonial times,” he said. “The government however does not have any large number of houses to give to everyone who comes here.”

Hamilton then responded to reports of disgruntled nurses.

“If they have discrepancies they ought to be remedied,” Hamilton said. “I am not aware of any option to remedy any disparities but if there is any disparity that can easily be remedied.”

Also responding on the matter was Junior Minister of State with responsibility for health Senator Wendy Phipps who claimed in anaddress to the Nation on Tuesday evening that the matter was being used as a political football.

“The federal government considered it rather unfortunate that so much time and energy has been consumed with this issue of foreign nurses’ recruitment which has, for the most part, been deliberately and hypocritically slanted to chive political advantage and disgruntlement,” Phipps said.

She added that the decision to source nurses from the Philippines is not an uncommon practice by the government.

“To be precise, government has been in the practice of recruiting nurses for years,” Phipps said. “In the past five years alone, starting in 2011 during the former administration a total of 27 foreign nurses have been hired.”

She slammed the unethical approach by members of the civil service who leaked a letter concerning the recruitment of the nurses that was penned back in July.

“It is an obvious lack of professionalism by civil servants who broke the basic rules of workplace ethics by publicizing information,” she said. “This is an abhorrent act which should never be condoned or tolerated in any workplace.”

The Senator stated that where required skills are in shortage the government has an obligation to recruit requisite workers to meet the growing needs of the people.

“It takes four to five years to train specialist nurses and the necessary academic foundation must be in place. To do nothing would be irresponsible.”

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