Health minister calls for calm heads amid nurses’ strike threat

Health minister calls for calm heads amid nurses’ strike threat
Health Minister, Dr. Duane Sands.

“Respectful and open dialogue”, is what Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands said he believes will bring some resolve to burning issues expressed by the Bahamas Nurses’ Union (BNU), which is up-in-arms over a shift system implemented by the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA).

Nurses threatened industrial action if the government is unable to force PHA’s hand to “do the right thing” during an emergency meeting Wednesday.

Dr. Sands admitted that their concerns are legitimate and that he intends to engage in a process of dialogue with PHA and the BNU.

“I am aware of the position of the Nurses’ Union and that position of PHA,” he said.

“I believe that clearly an opportunity to sit down and ventilate this matter ought to lead to effective and appropriate compromise in the interest of patients. That is going to be the guiding approach to deal with this matter.

“The issue of four hours on and four hours off has been a matter of discussion and contention for quite some time. At the end of the day, it is not abnormal, provided that whatever approach is taken follows both international and local laws. We cannot be in contravention of labour or employment laws but, at the same time, some degree of flexibility in a 21st century Bahamas is in order.”

Dr. Sands said that the matter at hand is not something new to the government, PHA and the BNU.

“This has been a matter that has been in discussion for more than a decade. While we need to look at the conditions of service, compensation, remuneration and other issues; there are limits to the flexibility of central government, or even PHA, to make good on that at the pace that may be demanded. So, we have to look at all the options without contravening existing industrial agreements and national law,” he said.

BNU President Amancha Williams told Eyewitness News Thursday that union members are upset that PHA hosted a private meeting with expatriate nurses to review a change in their shifts.

“We found that PHA invited these foreign workers – Filipinos and Africans – to a private meeting to discuss working a changed shift system,” explained Williams.

“Now several years ago, we had talks about Bahamian nurses working this same shift system. It’s not that Bahamian nurses do not want to work the shift, but it requires a ‘shift premium’ that government does not want to pay to Bahamian nurses. So, they extended this shift change to the expats so they don’t have to pay the extra monies to us.”

Williams said the union wants to negotiate in the best interest of its members.

“PHA has breached all of our industrial agreements,” she said.

“We are the legal bargaining unit for all nurses. Bahamian and expats fall under that arrangement. So, you cannot secretly meet with one set of nurses to do one thing while the other set of nurses are not given the same option without negotiating the time schedule and shift premium changes.

“So, we are now calling on our government to come to the table. This is really a slap in the face for us.”

Williams revealed that the BNU received a call from the Director of Labour Robert Farquharson and noted that the union is open to engaging in dialogue with the labour department in hopes of reaching a solution.

When questioned whether the government has a contingency plan in place if nurses feel their demands are not being adequately met, Dr. Sands said, he’s confident that the issue will not escalate to that point.