HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE imminent threat of a strike by the Bahamas Doctors Union was called off yesterday on the assurance that “swift” resolution will be brought to junior doctors receiving outstanding holiday pay, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands told The Tribune yesterday.
While there is no definitive timeline for resolution, the minister said it will more than likely happen “in the early part of” 2019.
As junior doctors and the minister were meeting yesterday, the Public Hospitals Authority released a statement revealing negotiations regarding holiday pay had been hampered because doctors failed to fully comply with the use of the automated system for time and attendance monitoring used throughout PHA institutions.
Given this non-compliance, PHA said it was forced to offer an across the board holiday pay benefit to all junior doctors.
The authority further revealed it had submitted an offer to the BDU last month and established a meeting date to discuss this proposal. However, the union failed to attend the scheduled meeting and failed to submit a counter-proposal, PHA said.
But based on yesterday’s discussions, both parties have now agreed to terms that would “preclude” the decision to strike, a statement from the Ministry of Health said yesterday.
This came after an overwhelming majority of junior doctors voted in support of a strike on Monday.
Dr Sands said: “The meeting went very well and we agreed the matter would be resolved as quickly as possible. At this point there was no significant likelihood of a strike and particularly we’ll continue to work along with the terms agreed.
“It was a very productive meeting. We outlined the terms of engagement and we will ensure that the parties come back to the table and that this is resolved as expeditiously as possible.
“They will sit back down at the negotiating table and we will make sure that this is brought to fruition as early as possible. It will more than likely happen in the early part of the New Year.”
The PHA’s statement early yesterday further confirmed it met with BDU over the past several months.
“The PHA understands the junior doctors’ concerns regarding the lack of payment of these amounts and is desirous of settling the matter as quickly as possible; however, efforts to effect these payments have been hampered by the lack of compliance by BDU doctors with the automated system for time and attendance monitoring used throughout the authority’s institutions,” the statement noted.
“Under the terms of the existing industrial agreement between the PHA and the BDU, junior doctors are eligible for payment at double time for all hours worked on holidays. Similarly, under the terms of individual contracts and letters of appointment for each junior doctor, there is a specific requirement for each junior doctor to adhere to all policies of the PHA, including the use of its automated system for time and attendance monitoring.
“To-date, there has been little adherence to this policy by the junior doctors which makes the task of confirming which employee is eligible for payment for working a holiday near to impossible. Given this non-compliance by the BDU members, the PHA has had to resort to offering an across-the-board holiday pay benefit to all junior doctors.”
It also said: “The PHA is amenable to meeting with the BDU in order to bring this matter to a successful conclusion, and our door remains open to the union in the interest of our common goal of providing quality, consistent healthcare to our patients.”
On Tuesday, Dr Sands pointed to the use of taxpayer dollars to fund tuition costs of young doctors and suggested the union’s strike vote had gone against the expectations of Bahamians who will inevitably suffer inconvenience from any form of industrial action BDU might have staged.
The threat came just two weeks after senior doctors ended their industrial action after signing an agreement-in-principle that boosts their terms of employment.