Guatemala well being staff face retaliation over COVID-19 issues

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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 that most spoke out’,” stated Chavez, an Indigenous Maya Ok’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 staff in Guatemala, fundamental 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 loss of life toll a lot greater.

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 staff [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 4,916 COVID-19 deaths.

Now, greater than seven months since Guatemala reported its first case of COVID-19 in mid-March, healthcare staff proceed to boost alarm over poor working situations, 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 stated she nonetheless had contact with sufferers who had 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 kids,” she advised Al Jazeera at a protest march final week in Guatemala Metropolis.

The day after Chavez examined constructive, she stated the hospital’s human useful resource division despatched her an e-mail indicating she wanted to submit paperwork in individual associated to her employment as a person contractor. She coordinated issues from dwelling and bought different folks 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 state of affairs right here

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

Chavez and her kids, aged 12 by 17, all recovered from COVID-19 with none critical problems. She returned to work and to her position within the management of a hospital staff’ 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 staff’ 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 assets and fired.

Chavez stated 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 stated she was not notified {that a} fee was due.

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

Retaliation widespread

Chavez’s case isn’t distinctive, nonetheless, stated 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 services across the nation to doc situations 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 state of affairs right here.”

Reyes stated retaliation for labour organising is widespread in Guatemala and he has documented experiences of layoffs, transfers, and different acts of retaliation in opposition to well being staff.

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

“They had been tasked with sweeping the doorway of the hospital. They had been tasked with transporting cadavers, a state of affairs for which they don’t seem to be skilled,” Reyes stated.

Protecting gear

The dearth of ample private protecting gear (PPE) for well being staff was significantly acute within the early months of the pandemic – and has been a serious supply of complaints.

Some front-line hospital staff fabricated selfmade face coverings. Others wore garbage luggage over their scrubs.

The ombudsman’s workplace and the San Juan de Dios Common Hospital Employees Union, a nationwide well being staff 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.

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

However well being sector unions say the response remains to be inadequate. Reyes stated the federal government has largely complied in the case of front-line staff, however some administrative employees 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 stated 44 well being staff had died from COVID-19 as of September 25. Carlos Noe Santos, common secretary of the San Juan de Dios Common Hospital Employees Union, advised Al Jazeera the overall is almost 10 occasions greater throughout the general public well being sector, nonetheless.

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

Reyes stated 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 stated.

Entrance-line well being staff and administrative employees at a short lived hospital arrange within the Parque de la Industria conference centre in Guatemala Metropolis had been employed with out being vetted, Reyes stated, 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 Common Hospital in Guatemala Metropolis [David Toro/Al Jazeera]

Employees at that short-term COVID-19 hospital rallied exterior the power on Thursday in protest of the truth that greater than 600 staff, together with medical doctors and nurses, haven’t been paid since late July when their contracts had 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 authorized the transfers, she stated.

Precarious contracts

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

Guatemalan well being authorities stated they had been processing Al Jazeera’s inquiry relating to estimates of the overall variety of public well being staff and the share of them employed on a contract foundation as a freedom of data request.

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

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

Santos’s union remains to be combating for protections for well being staff who’re over the age of 65, pregnant, or in danger attributable to continual well being situations. It filed a lawsuit in opposition to the federal government and a courtroom dominated in its favour, however the authorities appealed and a ultimate ruling remains to be pending.

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

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

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