Guatemala well being employees face retaliation over COVID-19 issues – Al Jazeera English

Guatemala Metropolis, Guatemala – Paty Chavez has had a tough few weeks.

A nurse at a regional hospital within the Indigenous highlands of Guatemala, she examined constructive for COVID-19, recovered, protested in opposition to the hospital’s response to the virus, after which was fired – all within the span of 15 days.

“My colleagues are all scared. They are saying, ‘look what occurred to the one who most spoke out’,” mentioned Chavez, an Indigenous Maya Okay’iche mom of three who labored for 4 years on the El Quiche Regional Hospital, 137km (85 miles) northwest of the capital.

However as is the case with so many public well being employees in Guatemala, primary labour rights eluded Chavez as a result of she works on a contract foundation, an issue that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

As of Monday, Guatemala well being authorities have reported 104,894 instances of COVID-19 and three,651 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus for the reason that pandemic started – although some estimates have positioned the dying toll a lot larger.

Nurse Mayra Escobar holds an indication that reads, ‘Heroes Eat Too’, throughout a rally this month in Guatemala Metropolis to protest a three-month delay in funds to short-term hospital employees [David Toro/Al Jazeera]

In August, the Nationwide Registry of Individuals, the federal government’s civil registry establishment that information births, marriages and deaths, had registered four,916 COVID-19 deaths.

Now, greater than seven months since Guatemala reported its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March, healthcare employees proceed to boost alarm over poor working circumstances, unpaid salaries, and the backlash many face for organising and talking out about how their workplaces have dealt with the virus.

Protesting the hospital

Chavez got here down with complications and a runny nostril late final month.

Whereas she now not labored within the devoted COVID-19 space of the hospital, she mentioned she nonetheless had contact with sufferers who have been contaminated by the virus. Chavez examined constructive and remoted at dwelling, the place her signs worsened.

“The worst factor was that I contaminated my youngsters,” she advised Al Jazeera at a protest march final week in Guatemala Metropolis.

The day after Chavez examined constructive, she mentioned the hospital’s human useful resource division despatched her an e mail indicating she wanted to submit paperwork in particular person associated to her employment as a person contractor. She coordinated issues from dwelling and acquired different individuals to drop off the paperwork.

A employee who stands up and speaks out is the employee who faces retaliation. They’re a employee who’s branded a subversive. They’re branded a socialist, a communist. It’s a horrible scenario right here

Daniel Reyes, Workplace of the Human Rights Ombudsman employees’ rights unit

Chavez and her youngsters, aged 12 by 17, all recovered from COVID-19 with none severe issues. She returned to work and to her function within the management of a hospital employees’ union that she and about 150 of her colleagues in El Quiche established 4 months in the past.

On October 12, Chavez participated in a well being employees’ march to protest the hospital’s response to the pandemic. Two days later, when she was on shift, she was known as into a gathering with human sources and fired.

Chavez mentioned she was advised she was fired as a result of she did not pay a efficiency bond whereas she was dwelling, sick with COVID-19, however she mentioned she was not notified that a cost was due.

El Quiche Regional Hospital director Salomon Delgado didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s quite a few requests for remark through cellphone and textual content.

Retaliation widespread

Chavez’s case is just not distinctive, nonetheless, mentioned Daniel Reyes, head of the employees’ rights unit of the Workplace of the Human Rights Ombudsman, an impartial state establishment.

The workplace has visited hospitals and different healthcare amenities across the nation to doc circumstances in the course of the pandemic, monitor complaints, and make suggestions to the federal government.

“A employee who stands up and speaks out is the employee who faces retaliation,” Reyes advised Al Jazeera. “They’re a employee who’s branded a subversive. They’re branded a socialist, a communist. It’s a horrible scenario right here.”

Reyes mentioned retaliation for labour organising is frequent in Guatemala and he has documented stories of layoffs, transfers, and different acts of retaliation in opposition to well being employees.

For instance, safety employees on the Roosevelt Hospital, a public hospital in Guatemala Metropolis, have been assigned duties outdoors the scope of their duties as punishment after they communicate up about circumstances.

“They have been tasked with sweeping the doorway of the hospital. They have been tasked with transporting cadavers, a scenario for which they aren’t skilled,” Reyes mentioned.

Protecting tools

The shortage of sufficient private protecting tools (PPE) for well being employees was notably acute within the early months of the pandemic – and has been a serious supply of complaints.

Some front-line hospital employees fabricated do-it-yourself face coverings. Others wore garbage baggage over their scrubs.

The ombudsman’s workplace and the San Juan de Dios Basic Hospital Employees Union, a nationwide well being employees union, filed a sequence of authorized actions in the course of the first two months of the pandemic in opposition to the Ministry of Public Well being and Social Help over that lack of PPE.

In Could and August, the nation’s prime two courts issued safety orders instructing the federal government present them with sufficient provides.

However well being sector unions say the response continues to be inadequate. Reyes mentioned the federal government has largely complied in relation to front-line employees, however some administrative workers are solely issued one disposable masks for a two-week interval.

“The ministry has complied with the [court-ordered] protections,” ministry spokeswoman Julia Barrera advised Al Jazeera in a written assertion.

The federal government mentioned 44 well being employees had died from COVID-19 as of September 25. Carlos Noe Santos, normal secretary of the San Juan de Dios Basic Hospital Employees Union, advised Al Jazeera the whole is sort of 10 occasions larger throughout the general public well being sector, nonetheless.

Well being authorities didn’t present Al Jazeera with the whole variety of well being employees who’ve died from COVID-19 for the reason that pandemic started. The question is being processed as a freedom of data request.

Reyes mentioned he has additionally been unable to acquire the statistic, although he believes the official determine is a extreme undercount. The federal government’s administration of personnel staffing short-term hospitals treating COVID-19 sufferers has additionally been a multitude, he mentioned.

Entrance-line well being employees and administrative workers at a short lived hospital arrange within the Parque de la Industria conference centre in Guatemala Metropolis have been employed with out being vetted, Reyes mentioned, and have confronted lengthy delays in getting paid and having their contracts renewed.

A nurse walks a hallway within the pediatric space of the San Juan de Dios Basic Hospital in Guatemala Metropolis [David Toro/Al Jazeera]

Employees at that short-term COVID-19 hospital rallied outdoors the power on Thursday in protest of the truth that greater than 600 employees, together with docs and nurses, haven’t been paid since late July when their contracts have been up for renewal.

Barrera, the well being ministry spokeswoman, advised Al Jazeera that contract renewals require an administrative course of and take time. The Finance Ministry permitted the transfers, she mentioned.

Precarious contracts

Union leaders say the non-permanent contracts that many Guatemalan healthcare employees are employed on, contribute to the precarity and danger they’ve confronted in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guatemalan well being authorities mentioned they have been processing Al Jazeera’s inquiry relating to estimates of the whole variety of public well being employees and the proportion of them employed on a contract foundation as a freedom of data request.

Noe Santos mentioned greater than half of the roughly 50,000 well being employees in Guatemala work from contract to contract, usually with out medical insurance or different labour rights, equivalent to paid holidays.

“The pandemic arrived and highlighted and exacerbated the precarity,” he advised Al Jazeera.

Santos’s union continues to be combating for protections for well being employees who’re over the age of 65, pregnant, or in danger as a result of power well being circumstances. It filed a lawsuit in opposition to the federal government and a court docket dominated in its favour, however the authorities appealed and a remaining ruling continues to be pending.

Regardless of the retaliation some well being employees face for talking out, many proceed to organise and protest their working circumstances.

Marta Hernandez, an x-ray technician at El Quiche Regional Hospital and secretary of conflicts within the native union, is one in every of them.

“I used to be motivated by the disparity in rights,” she advised Al Jazeera in Guatemala Metropolis’s central plaza on the tail finish of final week’s protest march, the place she and her colleagues wore traditional-style blouses of their union’s color – shiny turquoise.

“We’re in opposition to the mismanagement of the pandemic.”

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