Dental assistants restive over delay in payment of new salaries
ABUSE FROM patients, lack of staff and resources, long working hours, poor salaries, and the ever-looming threat of working in volatile communities. These are but some of the issues faced by public dental assistants, who are reportedly leaving their job in droves.
It is much like the exodus by members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the nurses, and other civil servants, explained Vivett Smith-Parchment, president of the Jamaica Dental Assistants Association.
As they shouted with placards outside the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service’s offices in Heroes’ Circle in Kingston, raising concerns over salary payments, the daily challenges – laced with frustration – of the job emerged amid the din.
“We represent less than 100 dental assistants who work in the clinics and the hospitals, but it is a profession where you have a very high turnover,” said Smith-Parchment. “We will have 100 this month, and by the next month, there is no more than 90.
“That is because of the same situation, how they treat us. Sometimes we don’t even know that people have left the system. They just take their leave and they are gone. Many times it is a couple of months down the road that you hear that they left,” the president continued.
On Wednesday, the dental assistants held aloft placards reading: ‘We are not begging it; we worked for it’; ‘Enough is enough’; and ‘More money, more respect’.
“Everywhere that there is a clinic, we have violence. We are risking our lives to conduct our jobs, and we are not getting the respect or our money for our services,” shouted one assistant as the group chorused a new round of “Nigel in the garden hiding”.
At the root of Wednesday’s protest was a renewed salary agreement that Smith-Parchment said had been signed with the Government in February and which should have been reflected in their salaries earlier this week.
That did not happen, and on Wednesday afternoon, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton explained that he had been in discussions with the assistants and the finance ministry in the hope of rectifying the problem.
“The monies are in hand and will be paid in the next cycle, which is next week. So the issue has been resolved in terms of the predictability of payment,” Tufton responded to questions posed by The Gleaner.
“I am sorry about the expressions that have been forthcoming in a demonstration. Sometimes these things just take communication and clarity. I heard about it when I saw the demonstration,” he said, noting that similar unrest is also brewing among legal officers within the ministry. Those issues, too, he said, will be addressed with greater clarity.
With many assistants already paid their monthly salary earlier this week, there were concerns about the form that the monies that are tied to a revamped salary arrangement would take.
“We understand that the instruction [for payment] was given to the Ministry of Health, which did not pass on such instructions to the various regions, and so while we were there at the ministry protesting, we got word from the Ministry of Health that the payment will be made on March 29,” said St Patrice Ennis, general secretary of the Union of Technical Administrative, noting that the dental assistants wait until then before deciding on their next move.