Doctors’ gratuity to pension…party criticises Govt’s “high-handedness”The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has declared that if Government remains determined to switch doctors from a gratuity arrangement to a pensionable arrangement, its Legal Affairs Committee would assist the doctors in bringing legal action against the Government for violation of their contracts.In a press statement issued on Saturday, the PPP has said that to switch the doctors to a pension scheme when they all agreed to terms of service that included gratuity and tax-free allowances is to breach their contracts.“Our information is that these doctors are all employed under valid and subsisting contracts of employment, which guarantee them benefits such as gratuity and tax free allowances. Switching these doctors to the pensionable establishment in the face of these existing contracts would amount to a breach of the terms and conditions of those contracts, exposing the state to millions of dollars in liabilities for breach of contract.” The PPP press release has stated.Finance Minister Winston JordanThe party noted that the scholarship and employment contracts which the doctors signed before and after they studied under the Government scholarship programmes guaranteed the doctors employment for five years with the Government of Guyana under terms and conditions which include a gratuity and tax-free allowances. To now deny these doctors those facilities would amount to a breach of their contracts.“It is to be noted that it is the PPP/C that highlighted this issue several months ago when it first publicly surfaced, and we promised our doctors then that our Legal Affairs Committee would offer them legal representation should the Government proceed with this egregious, unlawful and unconstitutional course of action,” the party said. “We reiterate that position now. We call upon the Government not to proceed with this promised course of action. If they persist, the PPP/C will collaborate with our doctors to do that which is necessary to have this decision reversed.”The party said it feels that these punitive measures levelled against a vital component of the health sector send a clear message — that the Government does not value the tireless and dedicated year-round efforts and sacrifices of hundreds of young and experienced doctors. The Government has clearly shown its disdain and disregard for these medical professionals by these measures, the PPP has said.The PPP has said that many of the doctors have threatened to leave the Public Sector and the country unless this decision is reconsidered. Besides the brain drain that would ensue if the doctors carry out their threats, the party says, it laments the loss of millions of dollars of tax payers’ money which would have been invested in some of these doctors during their formative years.Following much criticism for this decision, the Public Health Ministry had extended the proverbial olive branch to local doctors. A notice originating from Permanent Secretary Collette Adams of the Public Health Ministry was sent out, inviting contracted medical doctors in the Government’s employ to a meeting with Ministry officials. According to the stated agenda in the notice, the doctors would be meeting to discuss their removal from the gratuity arrangement. The meeting is set for April 10 at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) from 09:00hrs.But while the Ministry’s conciliatory approach is a welcome sign to the disaffected doctors, Guyana Times understands that the notice was sent out only after some disaffected doctors had procured the services of an attorney-at-law who had dispatched a letter to the Public Health Ministry warning of legal action. According to sources, the letter demanded that an explanation for the switch be made to the doctors, whom this publication understands were not consulted in the first place.It is understood that the lawyer’s letter was sent to the MoPH on March 31, and had also included a seven-day deadline for a response from the Ministry, failing which legal proceedings would be initiated.Guyana Times first broke the story, revealing that as of March 24, temporary and contract workers within the GS3 and GS14 salary scales (including doctors) would be switched from gratuity benefits to being on the pensionable establishment.The Ministry of Public Health and Government officials have since maintained a carefully guarded silence on the matter, despite outcries from the Guyana Medical Association (GMA) and other groups.The GMA has also joined the voices calling on the Government to reverse the measures it had taken against benefits medical doctors formerly enjoyed.