Trade union leaders blasted Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell and Health Minister, Nicholas Steele at a solidarity session held Saturday night at the Public Workers Union (PWU) on the Port Highway.
President of the Commercial & Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), George Mason branded PM Mitchell as “a wicked man” and Senator Andre Lewis described the Minister of Health as “the bobbing minister”.
The poorly attended event was addressed by representatives of the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU), CIWU, members of the Nursing profession and the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), and former President of the Public Workers union (PWU), Madonna Harford.
The rally termed “Solidarity Saturday” and held under the theme “We care about health care” came on the heels of comments made by Prime Minister Mitchell at a Town Hall meeting in New York, branding health care workers as “thieves and incompetent”.
In his address, TUC President, Andre Lewis renamed Minister Steele as the “bobbing minister”, noting that he sat next to the Prime Minister as he made his critical statements in Brooklyn and was spotted nodding his head in agreement over what was being said about the healthcare workers.
“I would not speak about the bobbing minister…you know the Minister of Health who sat there while the Prime Minister is speaking and running down the health care and all he was doing was bobbing and I thought his head might of fall out but I don’t want to speak about that because I am not here for this”, Lewis quipped.
The GTUC President charged that Prime Minister Mitchell should be blamed for the level of incompetence that he spoke about in New York in the area of health.
“What incompetency is he speaking about? The fact that he can say that the place is filled with incompetent people and he has been and is head of this country for so many years, he must be held responsible”, he said.
And only a few days ago, one of my dear comrades from the United States …. became aware of today’s meeting and I would tell you the choice words that he used … (in) answering to a question about the problems in the health care and then (for Dr. Mitchell) to blame what he says is thievery … it takes one to know one, I am not going to say that, I am not going down that road…”, he added.
Sen. Lewis suggested that if there was incompetence in the private sector then the boss would be sacked and the same should now apply to Minister Steele in government on healthcare.
He said: …In the private sector someone head may have dropped off, someone head may have rolled because if you are responsible for a department or a company and there is such level of incompetence, where does the buck stop?
“…This must be a wake-up call for us to put the health care situation in this country on the front burner and we must demand an improvement in the quality of our health services”, he added.
TAWU’s General Secretary, Bert Patterson who delivered the solidarity message on behalf of his union felt that the nation was too quiet in making the demand from Prime Minister Mitchell to apologise for his attack on the healthcare workers.
Patterson lamented the fact that there is no way to legally hold the Prime Minister accountable for his words but the best thing the people can do in the circumstances is to demand the apology.
“We have the primary officer of government and that is the Prime Minister who would have gone oversees and stated the reason for the poor health care in Grenada is because ‘allu too thief’…that is a serious statement.
“Let us consider that if the President of the PWU who represents the majority of the healthcare workers, let us say Sister Rachael (Roberts) had gone on GBN and said…that all NNP Parliamentarians and representatives and ministers are thieves because all the public property over the years that foreigners and business people get hold of without paying a cent, seems to be thievery.
“In other words, I or Rachael didn’t say anybody thief but … if we had say so, I could assure you by Monday morning Sister Rachael will be hauled before the Public Service Commission – she might be transferred to Carriacou or she might have a (spate of) lawsuits flying all over…that is just a fact.
“…What the Prime Minister has done to all of us is exactly that – he calls us thief. Now we can’t bring him to the Public Service Commission. We can’t all bring him up because even with the CCJ (coming on stream), class action suits is not possible in Grenada – meaning if it was elsewhere, all of us could have taken him to court because he called all of us thief but under our legal system, that is not possible, even when your CCJ come.
“…The only thing I believe we can demand from Prime Minister Mitchell is an apology. The only thing a big man would do when he wrong is say: “Sorry, ah wrong”. You call me a thief, you yourself now say it’s not that you mean but you call me a thief so say sorry.
“This is just a matter of decency we’re dealing with here…that you call me thief, you ain’t see me thief, you have to say sorry and it is a demand we have to make and I believe the nation is too quiet in making this demand on our Prime Minister”.
According to CIWU’s George Mason, he believes that PM Mitchell deliberately made his statement in New York to negatively affect nurses who are leaving the system and seeking employment outside of the country most notably in England.
He said, “When I heard the PM said even though you bring one hundred nurses and doctors the same thing will happen….so it means the hospital is an institution where compulsive thieving is expected.
“… Today should be the beginning of a new era when we hold our leaders responsible for what they say. The question is, did he say that to affect the nurses who are going, so that upon arriving where they are destined to go, they will be looked at with a second look?
“This man is a wicked man, I say it with no apology – this Prime Minister is a wicked man and he plans everything he says, that’s why he is not apologising because he didn’t make a mistake…he means what he says and he says what he means.”
President of the Junior Doctors Association, Marvin Corion called for a movement to be started in Grenada to demand better health care for the people on the island.
“We need to start a movement in this country where our doctors and our nurses will be appreciated. We need to start a movement in this country where you can go to your hospital and you wouldn’t have to spend six hours in Casualty to be attended to, when you go to Princess Alice and there is only one doctor to take care of all the patients, those in casualty and those on the ward”, he said.
“We need to start a movement of change in our country and if it starts with health care, then let it be. If it starts with a few of us that are here right now then let it be but let it spread. Speak to your neighbours, speak to your friends, let your children know because too long, we have been criticised, too long negativity has been the toll of the health sector in Grenada.
President of the Nurses Association, Patricia Strachan stated that nurses work under stringent conditions and felt that the Prime Minister should do what is right in the circumstances and issue an apology as requested for his unfortunate statements in New York.
“…We did what we had to do, the integrity of our profession was attacked and we had to fight back and we made our statement, we stand by the statement…it is left to the individuals to do what is right,” she said.
President of the PWU, Rachael Roberts called for a proper investigation to be held into the allegations of thieving by Healthcare workers at the General Hospital.
“Have an investigation and bring the culprits and bring them to justice. Let us know who they are but you cannot use a blanket statement and cover all public officers in one colour”, she said.