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December 21, 2007
Chuuk Doctors Protest Finance Directive
POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (STPNS) -- WENO, Chuuk ? The Chuuk Hospital sits atop a hill in Weno. One can stand on the front walk and enjoy a splendid view of the islands of Faichuuk. Away from the pothole laden roads of downtown, it is free from the dust that powders the eyelashes brownish white. Though there are problems at the hospital ranging from a pounce of beggar cats in the area to shortages of medicine, nurses and doctors generally go about their daily chores joyfully.
An announcement made on December 4th by Dr. Kennedy Remit, President of the Chuuk Medical Association, chilled the normally cheerful attitudes. Dr. Remit informed 14 Chuukese and 3 Filipino doctors that the 20% additional pay they had received as a ?stand-by differential? for ?on call? duties for more than 15 years was no longer allowed.
Doctor Felix Yoma said, ?It?s not really a strike. It?s a protest.?
?Normally, a doctor will respond to an emergency call or for any other normal call,? stated a physician who asked to remain anonymous, ?but during the one-week strike, we only responded to emergency cases.?
The new Director of the Department of Administrative Services, Gillian Doone was asked why after so many years stand-by differentials had only recently become an issue. Doone said, ?Because the Chuuk State Public Service System says so.?
The Chuuk State Public Service System, Section 1031 says that physicians are not classified as exempt employees. The Office of the National Public Auditor says that they are being paid as if they are.
As reported in The Kaselehlie Press in Volume 7 Issue 23, the Office of the National Public auditor conducted an audit of personnel practices in Chuuk for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 through April 30 of that year. In it they said that the State is allowed to give an employee who makes less than $521.28 bi-weekly ($13568.88 per year) a stand-by differential of 20% when they can be called to work during normal off-duty hours.
The striking doctors make more than the law allows for a stand-by differential. According to the ONPA, Chuuk law says that the extra pay should not have been given to them in the past. The question of whether the law is appropriate for physicians is still up for consideration.
The auditor pointed out that 21 CDHS employees had been paid in 2006 and 2007, an average of an extra $5000 per employee per year, a cumulative total of more than $100,000 per year.
?They exempt themselves from the exemption,? Doone said.
When asked whether the doctors would be getting their 20%, the director said, ?the Governor has issued an emergency policy, and yes they are, and the legislature has enacted legislation too.?
Even as the interview with Director Doone was taking place, payroll checks were being printed for the doctors that included the extra 20% of pay to which physicians in Chuuk had become accustomed.
Manny Umwech of Chuuk Public Health said, ?The doctors have received two or three step increases and my nurses have not. I think that is not fair.? Mr. Umwech said that he thinks the doctors are aiming for a salary figure of $32,000 salary per year, which would include a ?professional premium? and other benefits.
By way of comparison, Governor Simina, a professional lawyer and Governor of Chuuk draws $35,000 per year as dictated by the Chuuk State Constitution.
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