More talks aimed to help solve nurse crisis

Labour Director, Robert Farquharson.

Director of Labour Robert Farquharson said Sunday that The Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) has not yet applied for permission to hold a strike vote with regard to their issue with the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) about a new shift system allegedly favouring expatriate nurses.

According to Farquharson, however, the strike may be moot as talks were held Friday between both parties in an effort to resolve the dispute and avoid a strike altogether.

Farquharson said the BNU does have a strike vote certificate however, that particular certificate is for a separate matter with the PHA that has already been forwarded to the Industrial Tribunal.

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

The session was a reaction to BNU officials discovered 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,” said BNU President Amancha Williams in an interview with Eyewitness News Thursday.

“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.

Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands has since implored both parties to have a “Respectful and open dialogue” in order to bring resolve to the burning issues expressed by 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.

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,” he said.

“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.”