The coronavirus pandemic has placed a significant strain on the ability of Beit Cure International Hospital (BCIH) to operate due to reduced budgetary support from its traditional benefactors.
The situation is so dire that the facility has been forced to undertake a retrenchment exercise that has seen about 24 people losing their jobs.
Before implementing the redundancies to reduce workforce, the hospital was also compelled to trim down basic salary for its 100-plus employees- except expatriates—by 20 percent and housing allowance by 15 percent.
Further, management also suspended night allowances, call allowances and overtime approvals owing to reduction in internal revenue as the hospital was only meeting about 35.50 percent of its target, according to documents Weekend Nation has seen.
BCIH gets 50 percent of budget support from Cure International in United States (US) through Mission Support Centre (MSC) US while the other 50 percent is revenue generated from its local running.
The hospital’s struggles begun this April when management engaged employees to submit ideas on how it could ensure financial stability and sustainability of its operations.
However in May, the hospital effected salary cuts and suspended all other allowances before announcing implementation of redundancies.
A memorandum on salary reduction dated May 7, 2020 and signed by executive director Elly Chemey, reveals the hospital leadership came up with a “difficult but necessary conclusion” regarding remuneration on April 7 2020.
As the workers were reflecting on their salary cuts and suspension of allowances, the organisation issued a retrenchment notice dated September 10, 2020 in which Chemey said “management has no choice but to implement a retrenchment process.”
“Pursuant to this, management has begun job assessments and will be communicating the positions affected the week of 14th September 2020 so as to finalise all terminations on or before the 30th September 2020.
“Retrenchment will be based on the hospital’s current needs as we note that reduced numbers of co-workers are necessitated to meet the current operational requirements.”
And in one of the employment termination letters Weekend Nation has seen, Chemey says the redundancies were due to the hospital’s prevailing operational requirement necessitated by effects of coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, we find that we must reduce our workforce and maintain a workforce that is in commensurate to the current operational needs,” it reads.
But the hospital decisions did not please employees who petitioned management demanding several remedies, including a financial status of how much the institution saved during the three months salary cuts.
They also demanded the institution’s financial position before salary cuts and a financial status of how donor money was spent.
In their 12-page petition, the disgruntled employees argued that the manner in which the salary cuts were effected was unfair and unlawful because, among others, they were coerced into accepting the deductions.
“The manner in which salary cuts were communicated verbally showed that the salary would be reduced by 35 percent but in reality the deductions are equivalent to 45 percent,” reads the petition dated September 14, 2020.
The workers further argued that there was no transparency in the hospital’s financial status and how the institution had been affected by Covid-19 pandemic.
The petition, which was signed by close to 50 employees, was also forwarded to Cure International headquarters in US.
The workers further pleaded with the organisation’s global leadership to intervene by putting on hold the retrenchments, reinstating the redundant workers and examining the hospital’s financial status and all accounting documents, among others.
In another internal memorandum dated September 16 2020 addressed to the employees, Chemey insisted that management was proceeding with implementation of redundancies because it was “procedurally and substantially correct.”
Challenged Chemey: “Please note that any person affected by the redundancies retains a right to challenge management’s decision in a court of law.”
And indeed, some of the disgruntled retrenched workers have now dragged the health facility to the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) demanding compensation for unlawful termination of employment, loss of immediate earnings and future loss of earnings.
The employees also want compensation for breach of contracts, payments of pension benefits, wrongful deductions from terminal benefits, arrears for leave days and basic pay or salaries.
In an interview one of the retrenchment victims, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were surprised with the decision to lay them off because contrary to claims of financial instability, the hospital was not affected financially.
He said: “Management told us that Mission Support Centre (MSC) USA trimmed its 50 percent budget support by 20 percent hence all those irrational decisions. But what we know is that the hospital has been receiving full funding until the time of our retrenchment.”
According to court documents Weekend Nation has seen, 17 of the retrenched employees argue their employment was unlawfully, unfairly and unprocedurally terminated by Beit Cure under the guise of redundancy and/or retrenchment due to alleged operational requirements necessitated by the effects of the corona virus pandemic.
Cure International president and chief executive officer Justin Narducci, chief of finance and administration Dave Helman and Debbie Stowell, who is director of communications, did not respond to our e-mails when contacted for their comment on the cutting of budgetary support.
Situated next to the country’s main referral Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Qech) in Blantyre, the 58-bed specialist health facility sees over 7 000 patients and performs nearly 1 500 surgeries annually.