Government has reacted swiftly to a series of protest action taken by nurses in the country.
An executive member of the union told reporters that the PWU was forced to take action in light of the lackadaisical manner in which the 3-year old Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government was addressing some of their burning issues including outstanding pensions and benefits.
The union and protesting nurses gathered in front of the hospital on Monday with their placards and followed it up on Tuesday with a silent protest.
This newspaper on Tuesday witnessed several of the nurses taking turns in holding placards at the hospital in an effort not to totally disrupt the services offered to the public.
Sources told THE NEW TODAY that the protest action was also aimed at sending a message to the NNP regime that PWU disapproves the proposed employment agency that was set up to provide employment on a 3-day a week to some nurses who were recently rehired.
It is alleged that the agency is under the control of operates of the NNP government.
Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s weekly post-Cabinet Press Briefing at the Ministerial Complex, Minister of Health, Nickolas Steele said he is rather surprised by the action taken by PWU.
He spoke of government waiting on the union several months now to submit a proposal on pension and benefits in order to move forward on a decision best suited for the workers.
He said the government believes that industrial action taken by the union is “surprising and unfortunate” and called on the nurses to return to work and for PWU to return to the negotiating table for further negotiations.
“We also note that the government has been waiting months for a proposal from the Public Workers Union to discuss salaries and other benefits for all public sector workers which also includes nurses. To date we have received proposals from GUT, Police Welfare but not from the Public Workers Union which represents the nurses,” he added.
Minister Steele described as “baffling” reports that the union is opposed to the Employment Agency for the rehired nurses as the nurses have been out of work for a very long time.
“It also appears that the Union is opposed to the plan to hire some 80 plus nurses and nursing assistants on a part-time contractual basis. It must be noted that these nurses have been out of work for many months in spite of their qualifications because of the ongoing Structural Adjustment Programme.
“Government is debarred from hiring these nurses on a fulltime permanent basis. The option therefore, until there are permanent openings – is to either engage them on the way proposed or leave them on the breadline.
“We do not believe the second option is a practical one, especially since the association publicly stated that these nurses are eager to contribute to public health care system. The union must now state clearly whether or not it is opposed to the principle of employment.
The Health Minister charged that the protest action started by the nurses will put the well being of patients at risk.
He reminded PWU that the needs of the few do not outweigh the needs of the many, even if the needs of the few are legitimate needs.
“It’s a legitimate point that this government, acknowledges, recognises and is willing and anxious to work on. That needs do not outweigh the need of us all to have quality health care at any time…
“…One may say that if nurses are to receive their pensions and increments that are due to them, tomorrow they will be happier and a happier worker is a more productive worker. It does not address the other issues of health care, training, the equipment, the facilities, and the other individuals working.
“Health care is much larger than that, our discussions and actions (in) the Ministry of Health (have) been to look at the bigger picture.”