SHOW US SOME RESPECT, PLEASE: Nurses threaten new action after press blunder

By MORGAN ADDERLEY

Tribune Staff Reporter

madderley@tribunemedia.net 

BAHAMAS Nurses Union President Amancha Williams yesterday criticised the Ministry of Labour for its “disrespect” and again threatened industrial action, ratcheting up the fight between the bargaining union and the government over various disputes.

The new row came after the ministry issued a press release about the non-validity of the union’s recent strike vote. The press release was later rescinded.

Ms Williams told The Tribune that the union members were not made aware of the rescinded notice until reporters informed them of it. 

The BNU also renewed its threat to take action due to these grievances. 

The Public Hospitals Authority also released a memorandum yesterday confirming that a shift change for its nurses will go into effect on September 3. 

In the press release issued early yesterday morning, the ministry declared the strike vote poll taken by the BNU on June 7 null and void because some nurses on three Family Islands did not have an opportunity to vote.

Less than two hours later, the ministry sent a follow up email, asking the initial press release be held if possible, in light of “new developments”.

“It’s disrespectful that the reporters got it before the union,” Ms Williams told The Tribune. “We know nothing of it. We have not gotten an official letter. We were not called to the roundtable. So we’re going to show them the disrespect in a (little) bit. Tell them look for the disrespect from us in a (little) bit.”

When asked what form this could take, Ms Williams said: “We will take it to the streets, that’s what we (are going to) do. Tell (Director of Labour) John Pinder, you don’t disrespect us. We taking care of the patients. We demand respect. If you had something to say to us, you don’t go to the public, to the reporters first…that’s unprofessional.”

Last week, Mr Pinder told this newspaper that Ms Williams should stop her threats now that the government has committed to start paying nurses overdue funds this month.

For her part, Ms Williams added that she had not been made aware of the fact that the ministry had asked for the statement to be held. 

Ms Williams said on Wednesday she delivered a letter to the ministry regarding concerns in reference to the strike certificate. 

According to Ms Williams, in the letter she detailed that in “Inagua, efforts were made to contact the authority via internet and fax. However, it appears that their system (was) down.” She added similar issues affected Mayaguana and San Salvador. 

“We only could say what we received, okay?” Ms Williams said. “We were just like anybody else, waiting to hear from these islands who voted and who we sent to. The BNU has not received any complaints…from any of our members to say they were being denied the opportunity to vote. Those who were trying to reach us, we sent it by email and fax, ok?”

Ms Williams also pointed to the small number of nurses on the islands in question, saying: “The first three islands don’t even have six nurses— each island has two nurses each. Which will not make a difference. The fact and the thing that makes a difference is the majority of nurses said ‘yes’ (to a strike vote) — 377 nurses.”

The BNU president also questioned whether the ministry is using this as an opportunity or an “escape” to prevent the union from having its strike certificate. 

Labour Minister Dion Foulkes confirmed to The Tribune yesterday that he had received the BNU’s letter confirming the three islands in question did not receive ballots.

 “The (law) mandates that all union members (should) have an opportunity to vote. So because of that irregularity, it was impossible for me to certify the strike vote,” Mr Foulkes said. 

Yesterday, the Public Hospitals Authority also released a memorandum announcing its decision to commence its “comprehensive standardised shift system” for its nursing complement throughout all of its institutions starting September 3. 

Under this system, nurses will have to work eight-hour shifts, “including those nurses previously assigned to the night shift.”

“This change will in effect eliminate the current ‘four on, four off’ system, resulting in increased availability of nurses in our nursing pool, while reducing working hours per day for nurses currently working the night shifts,” the statement continued.

The PHA added that by reducing work hours from 10 hours per day to 8 hours for night duty, nurses would reduce the risk of medical error. 

Request for response from the BNU regarding this matter were unanswered up to press time. 

The issue of shift changes has been an ongoing source of contention between the BNU and the PHA. 

On August 1, the BNU’s executive board demonstrated outside Princess Margaret Hospital regarding its ongoing issues with the PHA and the government.

On April 30, more than 200 registered and trained clinical nurses staged a “sick out”. 

One issue that angered them was a 12-hour shift foreign nurses, who are not a part of the union, were asked to work at the time.