Nurses vote to strike

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Unable to come to an agreement with the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) on a new shift system, nurses throughout The Bahamas on Tuesday voted in favour of a strike.

Up to press time last night, president of The Bahamas Nurses’ Union, Amancha Williams released the unofficial poll results. She said a total of 570 nurses in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Exuma had voted in favour of striking and three voted ‘No’.

Yesterday ’s poll was held at the Princess Margaret Hospital, the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, the South Beach Department of Public Health, the Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama and at other venues on the Family Islands.

This latest strike vote marked the second held by nurses.

The first was held back on June 7 when 377 nurses voted yes and seven voted no.

The Ministry of Labour, however, declared the June 7 strike vote null and void as ballots had not been delivered to Inagua, Mayaguana and San Salvador.

Williams, who spoke to Eyewitness News last night, thanked nurses throughout The Bahamas for their participation in the second strike vote exercise.

Williams said yesterday’s strike vote is an indication that the union is united and moving forward with the strength to have their concerns addressed.

“We are saying to the PHA and the government that you have heard the voices of the nurses; they disagree with what you are putting forth to the nurses.

“With this [strike vote] we are very pleased with the results and we thank all the nurses.

“Five hundred and seventy nurses voted yes. Isn’t that saying something to our government?

“It is time for a change and enough is enough. Treat us as nurses, a professional body,”  Williams said, adding that the numbers at yesterday’s strike vote speaks volumes.

Earlier this week, Williams told Eyewitness News that the PHA wrote to the union on Sunday advising that the new shift system will be deferred until further notice. But last night, Williams said “deferred” does not mean that the proposed shift system is off the table.

“This [strike vote] will provide us with a tool to say, you now have to come and talk. You can’t bully us no more, there is no more bullying.

“You have to come and sit at the table as an adult and negotiate the terms and the conditions of the industrial agreement and follow protocol and due process,” Williams said.

At the end of October more than 200 nurses left their post and stood outside the Princess Margaret Hospital to express their displeasure with the  PHA’s newly-announced shift change; many saying that they would quit if forced to work a five-day shift period versus a four.

The PHA maintained, however, that the nurses’ union had, in fact, agreed to working the five-day shift period, but according to Williams, this was not the case.

The PHA promised nurses who worked between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. an additional $1.75 per hour premium to that of their standard salary under the new shift change, but union heads referred to the increase as “a slap in the face” and said it was too low and amount to compensate for nurses’ duties.

The Public Hospitals Authority maintained that contrary to statements made by President of the Bahamas Nurses Union, there was a legally enforceable  agreement dated December 9, 2014 between the Public Hospitals Authority and the Bahamas Nurses Union wherein:

The parties agreed to a forty 40-hour work week; the parties agreed to eight 8-hour shifts; the parties agreed to a ten 10 hours minimum rest period between shifts; and the parties agreed that persons working a shift between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. shall be paid a shift premium of $1.75.

For the purpose of further clarification, the Authority said it wished to advise that the hourly shift premium of $1.75 to be paid is in addition to the base pay that these nurses regularly receive.

The Authority strongly objected to assertions by the President of the BNU that the Union was not given prior notice regarding the implementation of the standardized shift system.

The PHA said notwithstanding the 2014 Agreement, several attempts were made to bring the BNU back to the table. The PHA also attached a chronological chart to its statement which records 15 separate interactions with the BNU.

The Authority said it maintains its position to implement the new standardized shift system for all nurses in its employ, effective  December 10, 2018.

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