minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez speaking at the signing of a five-year industrial agreement yesterday. Pictured second right is Bahamas Nurses Union president Jannah Khalfani. Photo: Tim Clarke/Tribune Staff
By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
EXECUTIVES of the Bahamas Nurses Union yesterday signed two five-year industrial agreements with the government, ending an arduous process that initially saw both sides come to an agreement only to have minor details force negotiators back to the table.
During a press conference at the Ministry of Health, BNU President Jannah Khalfani, flanked by other union officials, finally had the chance to “put pen to paper,” finalising agreements between the two entities for the 2010-2015 and 2015-2020 periods.
Health Minister Dr Perry Gomez hailed Wednesday’s signing as a “red-letter day” for his ministry.
He said: “…I always speak highly of the nurses in the Public Health Department, in fact, I often refer to them as the unsung heroines of The Bahamas because of the work they do.”
“It was a public healthcare nurse that donned the gowns to go on the plane to inspect the plane that was suspected of having a patient with Ebola. It is the public health nurses that keep our country safe, whatever the infectious disease challenges are in our country,” he added.
Dr Gomez said despite the gruelling process, he was relieved that the negotiations yielded an agreement that both sides could accept. The contracts guarantee that nurses throughout the country’s public health system would receive wages “appropriate to the their line of work.”
According to Dr Gomez, nurses are set to receive retroactive payments totalling $1,200 as compensation for unpaid uniform allowances for a period extending from July 2012 to June 2014.
However, he could not give an exact date of payment, suggesting that it would be paid “as soon as possible.”
In December 2014, nurses were paid a $300 lump sum to address unpaid allowances from July 2014.
A $50 allowance has been paid out regularly, attached to the monthly salaries of the nurses since January.
Ms Khalfani expressed gratitude to a number of persons who she said played vital roles in ensuring that an agreement was made. In particular she noted the help of Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson and the intervention of Prime Minister Perry Christie, which came at a point when negotiations were at its worst.
“I would be amiss if I don’t thank the prime minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas - he had said that he would make this happen and true to his promise he did. And so, I would definitely like to thank him,” she said.
Last week, Ms Khalfani led a demonstration in front of the Office of the Prime Minister demanding an audience with him after a meeting with Labour Minister Shane Gibson failed to produce any headway in negotiations.
She said at the time that it was ridiculous that after both sides had agreed to the details in the agreements, the government would refuse to sign the contracts knowing that persons counted on the funds expected from the contracts for the holidays.
Dr Gomez said yesterday’s agreements, which addresses primarily public health nurses, are expected to cost the government more than $4.4m.
In October, the Nurses Union signed an industrial agreement on behalf of the 1,550 nurses employed at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre and the Grand Bahama Health Service.
Those agreements cost the government and taxpayers $13.8m.