By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage has claimed that one doctor allegedly provided 69 prison officers with sick notes in one day and that the doctor in question was not in office on the day the notes were written.
Dr Nottage said his ministry knows the identity of the doctor, but did not release a name.
Bahamas Prison Officers Association (BPOA) President Sgt Gregory Archer yesterday declined to comment on Dr Nottage’s claims, but told The Tribune that the “bigger issue” was Dr Nottage’s “total disrespect” of the BPOA’s concerns.
Dr Nottage’s claims were in reference to last month when nearly two-thirds of prison officers scheduled to work called in sick for three consecutive days. At the time, Sgt Archer denied all reports of a “sick out” and claimed all officers not at work had “legitimate sick slips.”
However, Sgt Archer had suggested that officers were “sick and tired” as a result of poor working conditions at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services.
Speaking in the House of Assembly during his contribution to the mid-year budget debate on Wednesday, Dr Nottage said: “Couple weeks ago, Mr Speaker, there was a sudden industrial action, I call it. They say it was a ‘sick out’. We have about 600-700 correctional officers and about 103 of them didn’t turn up for work for one thing or the other, and, Mr Speaker, it is interesting that some of them brought sick notes.
“There was one doctor who signed a sick note for 69 officers in one day – 69! Especially since he wasn’t in his office. If 69 people go to a doctor the same day for the same sickness for the same length of time … especially since we know where the doctor is, and that day it wasn’t in the office. I just say this so they could know that we know.
“I have met recently with the correctional officers, we are seeking to address the concerns that they have that we have the capacity to address, and I trust that we won’t have to have any more sickouts.”
Although denying reports of a “sick out,” Mr Archer told The Tribune that officers are “fed up and tired” of the “blatant disrespect” by government officials and are falling ill due to the “strenuous” working conditions at the facility.
Sgt Archer said that the complaints expressed by his association were not new. He insisted that the government has been made aware “over and over again” of the problems, but refuses to resolve the matter. He said that the longer these matters went unanswered, the longer officers would be unable to perform.
On the third day, Sgt Archer stated that the government should do the admirable thing and sit down with staff to correct “the poor working standards at the prison”.
A few days later, Sgt Archer confirmed that executives from the BPOA met Dr Nottage to discuss “in detail” the list of issues facing officers at the DCS.
At the time, Sgt Archer said, the two parties were due to meet during the following week.
Yesterday, however, Sgt Archer said the association still had not met Dr Nottage, and rather than focus on his claims, the “bigger issue” was Dr Nottage’s “total disrespect” of the BPOA’s concerns.
“A month has passed now and we have still not yet heard from the minister,” he said. “That is total disrespect to us, and this is something we’ve been saying for years. The level of disrespect to the persons that put their lives at risk everyday.”
Last month, the Caribbean Association of Corrections (CAC) executives revealed in a statement that the group was “very concerned” with present issues facing officers at the correctional facility.
CAC public relations officer, Rajkumar Ramroop, indicated that the CAC executive body had been paying close attention to the recent developments in The Bahamas and hoped for a “positive outcome”.
The group suggested that if issues at the facility are not corrected, the situation has the potential to “disrupt the smooth operations at the correctional facility”.
Mr Ramroop said: “We are appealing to all sides to allow good sense to prevail and meet with a view to resolving the issues. If this is not dealt with it will threaten the safety and security of the Bahamian people. We hold the firm view that dialogue and proper communication is the key to resolving this current dilemma.”
The group said it was willing to be a part of the mediation process between prison officers and the government.
The government has been busy in recent months enhancing elements of the former Fox Hill Prison after introducing the Correctional Services Act, which mandated major reforms in the nation’s prison system.
In December, the DCS opened a new 40-unit dormitory complex and last month commissioned a new Security Intelligence Unit, both at the Fox Hill compound.