Sands, nurse’s union at odds

Minister of Health, Dr. Duane Sands.

Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands and Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) President Amancha Williams are at odds following a mass sick-out, which crippled non-essential healthcare services Monday.

Members of the BNU were up-in-arms over scheduling favouring expat nurses, unpaid mileage and the government’s slow approach to confirm the employment of hundreds of nurses.

The minister told Eyewitness News on Monday that he spoke with Williams and “reassured her that his office was open to achieve a resolution.”

However, when contacted by Eyewitness News on Tuesday, Williams said she never had any dialogue with Dr. Sands – save for a few words exchanged in passing.

“The only conversation I had with Dr. Sands Monday was in passing in front of the hospital,” Williams said frankly.

“There were no negotiations. We also have not been paid and there have been no confirmations made for our non-confirmed nurses. But the issue is even bigger than these concerns, we are demanding respect from the government.

“I don’t know why the minister would say such things. He is incorrect in his statements that he has made to the public.”

Dr. Sands maintained Tuesday however, that the government did its part to ensure some $55,000 in mileage was paid to nurses.

“Accrual for a group of nurses was placed on the pay sheet and the expectation was that they should have had that money in their accounts last pay day,” Dr. Sands shared.

“We now need to confirm whether those instructions from the ministry were carried out by finance and the treasury.

“But certainly, if it was not on the pay sheet for April, I am advised that it will definitely be there at the end of May.”

Meantime, Williams sang another tune.

“Mileage has not been paid. Nurses are in the clinic and working as midwives and have no received one dollar. We have given the government a year to see where they were going with addressing our issues. We want the minister to be true to the public when he makes his statements. We haven’t received a dollar,” she said.

“All of this does not provide staff with good morale.”

When hundreds of nurses called in sick Monday, Dr. Sands said, their colleagues were forced to pick up the slack.

“The senior nurses, expatriate nurses and graduate nurses stepped up and I want to say a collective ‘thank you’, to them. While some services were interrupted, certainly we were able to provide essential services. But, we recognize that there is only so long that you can continue that,” he said.

To this end, the health minister said, the government may begin looking into how it can regulate mass sick-outs.

“The labor laws and the union industrial agreement allows for illness and so this has been a tactic utilized by unions for many years. Who is to say that they aren’t sick if they are not required to present a doctor’s slip?” the health minister questioned.

“Yes, it is possible for people to get sick. It is also true that numbers of people can get sick. But, it would be very peculiar for 200 people to get sick in the absence of some public health issue.

“So, when we look at all of this – as we evolve as a country – the question will have to be asked, whether that loophole will have to be closed.”

Williams told Eyewitness News Tuesday that the BNU will host a news conference today to air its grievances once again.