The Public Workers Union (PWU) has challenged the statement made by Minister of Health, Nickolas Steele that all nurses within the government system are fully employed.
Speaking to THE NEW TODAY, Public Relations Officer of the union, Brian Grimes described as “half-truth” the claim as made by the senior government minister.
Grimes said that full-time employment is not what should be used to describe the status of nurses as many of them are severely underpaid by the State.
“Even if all the nurses in the country are employed based on actuarial studies that have been done, it would still mean that we are grossly understaffed as far as the nurses are concerned”, he told the newspaper.
“What the government has done in recent times and the Public Workers Union agitated strongly against it, is that they have taken a number of nurses in excess of 30, put them in an agency and is employing them three days a week…”, he said.
Grimes went on: “…So, yes they are being counted as employed but in fact they are underemployed. So, the statement made by Minister Steele is misleading and basically a half truth. It is not a true reflection of what is happening within the health sector.
“In addition to this, the nurses are being maltreated and underpaid currently. There are a number of nurses, let’s say about 30 or more who are performing as midwives and they are being paid as registered nurses so they are being grossly underpaid, he said.
According to Grimes, this practice by the government runs contrary to the Labour Code which provides for equal work for equal pay and described it as a “recipe for disaster”.
He accused the ruling New National Party (NNP) government of engaging in underemployment with the nurses and resorting to the controversial practice of contract work to hire them.
Grimes also expressed fears that Grenada stands on the verge of losing several nurses to more lucrative offers overseas and the people and health system could be affected.
He said the lack of care shown to nurses and the limited investment in resources within the health sector is causing nurses to seek more lucrative employment opportunities outside of Grenada.
He stated that over the years, the nursing profession and the health sector have been “grossly neglected” by the current and previous governments as reflected in the policy of continual contract employment, under-employment and underpayment.
The PWU official charged that the level of unfairness faced by nurses in the system is indicative of government’s unconcern in making the health sector a priority as compared to certain professions within the public sector.
He said: “A sector that I personally have all tremendous respect for is the RGPF (Royal Grenada Police Force) but you will never see a Police Officer under contract – they are an essential service and nurses can also be categorised as an essential service but yet for all you see a number of nurses being contracted and in fact the government of Grenada via our Honourable Prime Minister is actually intimating to the Grenadian public that contract work is the new world order and we have to follow that in Grenada.
“We’re saying that that cannot be fair to nurses – it is being applied to nurses and it is grossly unfair because it is causing the nurses on a whole to be disenchanted and they are leaving the service by droves”, he added.
Grimes pointed to one senior nurse on the island who will be taking up employment in the Turks and Caicos for twice time the salary that is being paid to her in Grenada.
He said, “We have nurses going to foreign countries and these foreign countries are hungrily pursuing them with the same skillset that they have here in Grenada and giving them payments of up to $5000 US a month and here they are making a mere fraction of that with the same skillset…so that just goes into a part of the frustration of the nurses.
“We understand that we are in Grenada and the resources are limited but clearly the level of prioritisation the government needs to put into the healthcare, they have been falling short.”
According to Grimes, the senior nurse who is departing the service is bent on taking some of her colleagues along with her to the Turks & Caicos Islands.
“The nurse said because she cares about the junior nurses and their future, she’s actually encouraging them to take up work elsewhere outside of the tri-island state – this is a frightening prospect.
“There are many reports of negligence in the health sector and it is not because the workers don’t care, it’s simply because they are undermanned and understaffed.
“We are pleading with the government, we are strongly requesting that they review how they look at the health sector and put priority in the sector financially as well as human resources for the betterment of the people and the citizens of this country.
Grimes also addressed the complaints from the public about having to wait for long periods before getting attendance at some of the nation’s healthcare facilities.
He said the doctors and nurses should not be blamed for the situation.
He stated that there are not enough nurses in the system and “people have to wait hours on end to see nurses and doctors and that is a result of the mass exodus of doctors leaving the public sector and it’s also a result of nurses also leaving…”.
Grimes also addressed the recent announcement made in Parliament by Health Minister Steele of a lawsuit filed against him and Education Minister, Simon Stiell from a doctor within the system.
He believes that the reason behind the lawsuit is much deeper than just a “moral obligation” to serve the state because of the granting of a government scholarship.
“The move was made simply because the issues in the health sector as far as health workers are concerned is deplorable – they are overworked, doctors have to do double shifts … then the pay they get is a mere fraction of what they can get in the private sector places like St. George’s University or going away.
“Yes, it’s a service to the nation but the individuals who study hard have to get lucrative financial reward for their hard studies as well as having that innate desire to help the general public.
“There needs to be a balance and the government of Grenada with its policies at this current time, they are not doing what they have to do to create that balance within the health sector.