Guatemala health workers face retaliation over COVID-19 concerns | Latin America


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 towards 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 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 health workers 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 health 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 demise 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 momentary hospital workers [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 workers 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 not labored within the devoted COVID-19 space of the hospital, she mentioned she nonetheless had contact with sufferers who had been contaminated by the virus. Chavez examined constructive and remoted at house, 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 electronic mail indicating she wanted to submit paperwork in particular person associated to her employment as a person contractor. She coordinated issues from house and received 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 workers’ rights unit

Chavez and her youngsters, aged 12 via 17, all recovered from COVID-19 with none critical problems. She returned to work and to her position within the management of a hospital workers’ 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 health workers’ march to protest the hospital’s response to the pandemic. Two days later, when she was on shift, she was referred to as into a gathering with human sources and fired.

Chavez mentioned she was advised she was fired as a result of she didn’t pay a efficiency bond whereas she was house, sick with COVID-19, however she mentioned 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 through telephone and textual content.

Retaliation widespread

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

The workplace has visited hospitals and different healthcare amenities across the nation to doc circumstances throughout 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 towards health workers.

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

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

Protecting gear

The dearth of ample private protecting gear (PPE) for health workers was notably acute within the early months of the pandemic – and has been a significant supply of complaints.

Some front-line hospital workers fabricated home made face coverings. Others wore garbage luggage over their scrubs.

The ombudsman’s workplace and the San Juan de Dios Common Hospital Workers Union, a nationwide health workers union, filed a sequence of authorized actions throughout the first two months of the pandemic towards the Ministry of Public Health and Social Help over that lack of PPE.




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

However health sector unions say the response remains to be inadequate. Reyes mentioned the federal government has largely complied relating to front-line workers, 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 mentioned 44 health workers had died from COVID-19 as of September 25. Carlos Noe Santos, normal secretary of the San Juan de Dios Common Hospital Workers Union, advised Al Jazeera the whole is sort of 10 occasions greater throughout the general public health sector, nonetheless.

Health authorities didn’t present Al Jazeera with the whole variety of health workers who’ve died from COVID-19 for the reason that pandemic started. The question is being processed as a freedom of knowledge 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 momentary hospitals treating COVID-19 sufferers has additionally been a large number, he mentioned.

Entrance-line health workers 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 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 Common Hospital in Guatemala Metropolis [David Toro/Al Jazeera]

Workers at that momentary COVID-19 hospital rallied outdoors the ability on Thursday in protest of the truth that greater than 600 workers, together with docs and nurses, haven’t been paid since late July when their contracts had been up for renewal.

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

Precarious contracts

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

Guatemalan health authorities mentioned they had been processing Al Jazeera’s inquiry concerning estimates of the whole variety of public health workers and the share of them employed on a contract foundation as a freedom of knowledge request.

Noe Santos mentioned greater than half of the roughly 50,000 health workers in Guatemala work from contract to contract, typically with out health insurance coverage or different labour rights, comparable to paid holidays.

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

Santos’s union remains to be preventing for protections for health workers who’re over the age of 65, pregnant, or in danger on account of power health circumstances. It filed a lawsuit towards the federal government and a court docket dominated in its favour, however the authorities appealed and a last ruling remains to be pending.

Regardless of the retaliation some health workers 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 certainly one 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 – vibrant turquoise.

“We’re towards the mismanagement of the pandemic.”

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