Supreme Court hands down injunction in Doctor’s Strike and BDU holds press conference
NASSAU, BAHAMAS- A late ruling by the Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon handing down an Injunction to the Bahamas Doctors Union Strike. The petition was filed by the Attorney General’s office as a last resort to get doctors to return to work. Following the injunction, the Public Hospitals Authority Released a statement saying they expect the resumption of normal operations at its hospitals and clinics following an injunction granted by the courts, advising members of the Bahamas Doctors Union to return to work forthwith. The move was the latest in an eventful day.
Scores of doctors marched to Rawson Square on Tuesday in protest of the government’s decision to have their labor dispute transferred to the Industrial Tribunal.
The junior doctors stood in the rain for more than an hour, singing ‘Bind us Together” in hopes that someone from the government would address them.
However, the government ministers who were locked in their weekly Cabinet meeting never came outside.
Hours earlier, President of the Bahamas Doctors’ Union (BDU) Dr. Melisande Basset held a press conference, to express the unions disappointment that their strike has been referred to the Industrial Tribunal.
More than 400 junior doctors withdrew their services last week, primarily over matters surrounding holiday pay owed since 2014.
On Monday, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes referred the matter to the Industrial Tribunal as the strike action over the employer’s failure to pay employees holiday pay has “threatened the public interest.”
Dr Basset said that the government “may have won the battle but they did not win the war”.
“From the moment that we started, we spoke about following the law and making sure we were adherent to it. We have done everything that we were required to do. We showed up at meetings when we were asked to. We went to the Industrial Tribunal when we had scheduled meetings. Of course the Ministry of Health, Department of Health Minister never showed up. Meetings were cancelled. We weren’t given due process to actually argue our case.” Dr. Basset said.
“We have yet to meet with the Minister of Health. We have yet to sit down as a body and discuss with him any of our issues but yet we have been denied the legal right to exercise our right to industrial action because we have not been able to have a conversation and we are being told that we have to go back to work because the matter has been referred to the Industrial Tribunal.”
Dr. Basset said the union is not done fighting.
“We have been seeking advice from all across, as to what is our next step and this morning we would have had a meeting on that. Today we want to let you know that this may be a small battle that seemingly they have won but the war is still being waged.”
She said the Minister there are four other trade disputes that the union will seek strike certificates for.
Attorney for BDU and President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Obie Ferguson said the government doesn’t have the power to order doctors back to work.
Ferguson said he was served with a letter by the Minister of Labour that he intended to exercise section 76 of the Industrial Relations Act which gives the Minister power to refer a legal strike to the Industrial Tribunal.
He noted that subsequent to receiving the letter, he received a phone call from the Minister of Health, Dr. Duane Sands who indicated that they anticipate of taking the matter to court to be granted an injunction.
“In my humble opinion in my years of experience in this business it is appropriate that he meet with the union and try to resolve the matter.”
Mr. Ferguson referred to several cases that discussed the powers of the Industrial Tribunal.
He also said that even if an injunction is granted, there is no mechanism in place to enforce it.
“That Tribunal has no powers to deal with your bargaining impasse. That’s not Obie Ferguson’s view, that’s the Court of Appeal’s view so even if they are successful in getting an injunction, the first question certainly I would ask the court, sending me there, is there a mechanism in place to allow you to make a decision where there’s a bargaining impasse between the parties,” Ferguson said.
Other unions including the Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA), Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU), the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTUB), the Union of Tertiary Educators (UTEB) and the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) stood in solidarity with the Junior Physicians.
The union leaders expressed disdain over the mistreatment of workers.
CPSA President, Dr. Locksley Munroe said the Senior Physicians strongly support the junior doctors.
“The CPSA doesn’t support disrespectful engagement with Doctors, whether they are juniors or seniors.” Dr. Munroe said
Munroe said the bullying tactics are dishonest and misleading.
“The way physicians are treated in this country is not in keeping with what is the global norm. We have never gotten over time.The Bahamian public needs to understand why it is we are taking this stand, not to put your health at risk but to simply be treated with honor and respect.”
Union of Tertiary Educators Bahamas President, Thompson said, “The government needs to have respect for workers and when they disrespect one set of workers, they disrespect all of us.”