Nurses stand firm

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Government’s planned start of the 24-hour polyclinics was struck another blow today, as yet another high-level meeting on the issue failed to persuade nurses to work the shift system.

This afternoon the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) as well as other representative bodies for the nurses, met with the Ministry of the Civil Service and Ministry of Health for several hours, but failed to move any closer to an agreement. In fact, no new date has been set for further talks on the matter, signalling that the negotiating parties recognise the difficulty in bridging the divide.

Acting General Secretary of the NUPW, Delcia Burke, told Barbados TODAY that not only are the nurses standing their ground, but the Ministry of Health has opted to return the 14 nurses that volunteered for the project back to their substantive posts at the Geriatric Hospital.

“The nurses’ minds have not changed, and they insist that they would continue to provide primary healthcare as well as community care for those with chronic illnesses. The nurses argue that to change the facilities to urgent care, would take away from their community work. So, while the NUPW does not want to stop the 24-hour facility, the nurses are also saying that the facilities are not good enough for such a transition,” said Burke. She pointed out that neither of the two polyclinics earmarked for the project, Sir Winston Scott and David Thompson Health and Social Services Complex, has adequate space.

As for what this latest development means for the start of the project, Burke explained that the ministry was tight-lipped about its next step.

“They said that they were supposed to recruit nurses and I asked them if they had started that process, but they did not give me an answer. They also had 14 nurses from the Geriatric Hospital that had volunteered to go but they have now been sent back,” she explained.

Last week the nurses pulled the rug from under a planned and widely-advertised June 1 start of the two, 24-hour polyclinics sending a message to Government that they will not be bullied into accepting the new hours of work.

As a result, the new system set to augment the emergency services of the Queen Elizabeth hospital has been postponed until a resolution can be found. At the time the union was informed by its members that they were being threatened with dismissal and transfers if they refused to work the 24-hour shift system.

However, this afternoon Burke told Barbados TODAY that when the issue of threats was raised, Ministry representatives strongly denied the charge.

“When we raised that issue, it was strongly denied. The person in charge said they never told persons anything about transfers or dismissals. I think this time around they are trying to use moral suasion to get persons to do the thing rather than brow beating them. The meetings have always been cordial, and we have seen no indications of threats at the meetings that I have attended,” said Burke.

She added, “When the meeting finished there was no agreement on a start of the 24-hour facility because there was no person to do it.”

Speaking Sunday night at the Barbados Labour Party’s first anniversary political rally at Carlisle Car Park, Bridgetown, Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic defended the Government’s decision to go the route of the 24-hour clinics.

The Minister called on the unions and health workers to let commonsense prevail in the negotiations.

While not disclosing anything further due to the ongoing negotiations, Lt. Col. Bostic asked unions to be cooperative, arguing the service is critical for the livelihood of ordinary Barbadians.
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