By Khrisna Russell
Deputy Chief Reporter
DAYS after the Bahamas Doctors Union agreed to call off strike action to negotiate over outstanding holiday pay, junior doctors said the Public Hospitals Authority’s offer of $1.80 per hour was not generous but below minimum wage.
The BDU further disagreed with Health Minister Dr Duane Sands’ assertion that junior doctors’ compensation packages were equivalent to $80,000. The union said the net pay of a junior is closer to some $30,000 less.
Further, the BDU said it was disappointed that a promise made by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis to arrange a meeting over double time holiday pay had not been honoured.
The union made its defence in a statement released late Thursday, two days after it was agreed there would be no strike on the promise of swift resolve on the issue of money owed.
That same day, PHA said doctors had failed to comply with the use of an automated system for time and attendance monitoring used throughout PHA institutions, which hampered negotiations.
“Junior physicians in The Bahamas have never been paid double time for holidays, as is mandated by the Employment Act. Since 2010, the Bahamas Doctors Union has taken part in multiple negotiations with the PHA and has filed two disputes with the Industrial Tribunal in an attempt to resolve this egregious injustice, all to no avail. We were even privileged to have a sit down with the prime minister who assured us that a meeting would be arranged to table this issue. To our disappointment, the PM failed to honour this promise,” the union said in a press statement.
“Most recently, the BDU met with the minister of health and a decision was made to return to the negotiation table with PHA to resolve the issue in a timely manner. However, as we have applied for a strike certificate, this is still a viable option in the event that negotiations fail.
“PHA management offered to pay a lump sum that worked out to be an hourly rate of $1.80/hr for working on holidays. This offer, which is far below minimum wage, is what the minister referred to as ‘generous’.
“The PHA has also refused to honour the time keeping system that they agreed to under the leadership of the former managing director, and as such, there is currently no agreed upon means of determining hours worked on holidays moving forward. PHA has no individual contracts with physicians and the unilateral decision to implement swiping as a means of timekeeping is not supported by law as it goes against our industrial agreement.”
The statement continued: “The $80,000 compensation package for junior doctors that PHA management submitted to the minister is grossly inaccurate as the net pay of a junior physician is closer to some $30,000 less. We note that the quoted figure included duplicate items such as pay for sick leave, vacation and casual days, which are already allotted for in the base salary.
“In closing, the minister has since acknowledged that his statements questioning the professionalism of junior doctors were unfair. We view this as a positive step toward amicable negotiations.”
The release was in response to the minister’s remarks last Tuesday outside Cabinet. At the time he said the doctors’ decision to take a strike vote had gone against taxpayers’ expectations, given the government pays for doctors’ tuition costs.
He told reporters the offer put forward by PHA was “generous”, adding it was difficult to call doctors a part of the working class.
“It’s difficult to call doctors a part of the working class and I think this discussion really gets at the heart of what defines a professional,” Dr Sands said, responding to questions on Tuesday.
“Bear in mind, if you look at junior doctors the average salary is about $48,000 a year and total compensation package is about $80,000 a year plus 15 percent gratuity at the end of three years. So it’s hardly true to consider those individuals as typical working class.”
He continued: “On Sunday in church the pastor or priest spoke about the vocations and what it means to put on a white collar and traditionally the white collars would have been physicians, priests, lawyers in exchange for standing and respect of the community.
“There was an expected degree of sacrifice, particularly when you add the fact that the Bahamian people have paid for the education of the overwhelming majority of these young physicians.
“The fact that Bahamian patients are now being asked to possibly endure the inconvenience of a strike it means that we now need to go back and look fundamentally at what it means to be a professional.”
Asked pointedly if he was saying the doctors were ungrateful, Dr Sands said no, but he said Bahamians held certain expectations.